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The Viking Woman of Western Norway – How Was She Dressed?

A shift, a strapped gown, and a cloak were common female garments in the Viking Age. But how were they designed and used?

The University Museum of Bergen has an interesting collection of textile remains from the Viking Age, fragments that have been found in graves in Western Norway, first of all in the county of Hordaland. These remains were excavated at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. The textiles were found as remains on brooches and other artefacts and have not been fully examined until recently.

In an article in the Nordic archaeological publication Viking, textile conservator Hana Lukešová presents a project that has identified various garments from three different female graves. All of the graves contained oval brooches with textile remains that had not disintegrated.  By examining the weaving techniques, pleated edges, folds, loops, types of cloth, impressions, stains and not least the stratigraphy of layers more closely, it was possible to identify different types of garments. All parts of the costume in the identification process (shift, tunic, strapped gown and cloak) come from the chest area where the brooches were fastened.

A Method for Garment Identification

The method used appears to function well to identify various types of garments, and therefore holds great potential to be used in further investigations. The project shows how important it is to take good care of all forms of documentation connected to textile finds. Even if textile remains have been removed from brooches, and the like, it is possible to reconstruct the structure and design of the garment based on impressions and stains. The article shows that archaeological textiles are important sources of information for dating and origin.

Information about textile finds from other areas in the Nordic countries, like Birka, Oseberg, and Hedeby, has previously been presented to the public, while the finds from Western Norway have been lesser known. Thus, this work is an important contribution to a distinctive Viking costume history of Western Norway.

Article Published in Viking LXXIV         

You can download the article ( in Norwegian) from Viking, the Norwegian Archaeological Society Yearbook volume LXXIV - 2011 in pdf format here.