Danish Textiles and Costumes from the Early Iron Age – University of Copenhagen

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Danish Textiles and Costumes from the Early Iron Age

Introduction

The research program Danish Costume from the Early Iron Age is conducted by the archaeologists and textile specialists Ulla Mannering (2005-2010), Margarita Gleba (2005-2009) and Susan Möller-Wiering (2006-2009). Lise Bender Jørgensen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, is affiliated as External Expert. Collaborating Museums are The National Museum of Denmark, Herning Museum, Kulturhistorisk Museum Randers, Moesgård Museum, Museum Sønderjylland, Arkæologi Haderslev, Nordjyllands Historiske Museum, Silkeborg Museum, Skive Museum. Museet for Salling og Fjends, Vejle Museum, Vesthimmerlands Museum, Viborg Stiftsmuseum.

Background

In an archaeological context, textiles occur in Scandinavia in all periods from the Bronze Age onwards. Costumes are rare finds, but Denmark possesses a unique collection of prehistoric garments recovered from bogs and burials. In their totality, they provide an outstanding contribution to our understanding of Scandinavian prehistoric textile and costume development. The majority of these Danish prehistoric costumes have been dated to the Bronze Age (1800-500 BC) and Early Iron Age (500 BC-400 AD). In the 1930s and 1940s, the Danish scholar Margrethe Hald wrote her two famous books about these finds: “Costumes of the Bronze Age in Denmark” (1935) and “Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials” (1950/1980). These books are still used worldwide as the primary references for these finds. They contain detailed information on specific finds and on textile technology in general but are, however, out of date and out of print. Since their publication, knowledge of prehistoric Scandinavian textile technology has increased dramatically. Now, more than half a century later, it is time to integrate these accumulated insights and knowledge and apply them in their proper archaeological context.


The vast majority of the above-mentioned finds belong to the collections of the National Museum of Denmark, and the museum is the primary partner in this program. Over the years, the staff at the textile conservation department in Brede has undertaken detailed but scattered analyses. This information is incorporated into the program and carried forward, systematised and further developed.

Material

The Early Iron Age material, comprising both pre-Roman and Roman Iron Age, includes finds from three distinct contexts: bogs, weapon deposits and burials. The focus of this research programme is the finds from the bogs and weapon deposits. The National Museum of Denmark and several local museums in Jutland are important partners in the investigation of the bog finds. The study of textiles from the Illerup, Vimose, Nydam and Thorsberg weapon deposits is funded by the Danish Research Council for the Humanities and is connected to the international research programs “The Iron Age in Northern Europe” headed by Jørgen Ilkjær, Moesgård Museum, Denmark and “Zwischen Thorsberg und Bornstein” headed by Claus von Carnap-Bornheim, Archäeologisches Landesmuseum Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf, Germany.

Mission

The mission of the program is to examine the costumes from the Early Iron Ages using modern scientific methods, and to create new international reference standards for these items. The long-term aim is to set new textile research standards, and to explore and communicate the new knowledge acquired during the process.

Methodology

In the course of this research program, we analyse, discuss and contextualize the material from several points of view:

  1. Technical textile studies. Earlier and more recent analyses are coordinated and supplemented with new techniques of fibre identification and fabric quality and use, costume details and wear. We are looking specifically at details connected with textile function. The project has created documentation, which will secure and/or prolong the preservation of these textiles (drawings, patterns and photos, which can be transferred to digital media).
  2. Cultural historical analysis. This program stage concentrates on presenting the results and integrating them into broader Scandinavian cultural historical and archaeological context, thereby creating a new and easily accessible textile and costume history, establishing a new dialogue with researchers within parallel archaeological disciplines.
  3. Cross-cultural and diachronic study. This part concentrates on placing the results in an international cultural historical and textile archaeological perspective. Collaboration with colleagues throughout Europe allow for comparisons with archaeological textiles from other contemporary areas.

Results and publications

The wide-ranging international collaboration has resulted in articles in Danish and international journals, and several books:

  1. Designed for Life and Death (2013)
  2. Textiles and Textile Production in Europe from Prehistory to AD 400, (2012)
  3. War and Worship: Textiles from 3rd-4th century AD Weapon Deposits in Denmark and Northern Germany (2011)

Link to publication list.