Cloth Cultures in and Beyond the Viking Age

Eva Andersson Strand, Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, Ulla Mannering, and Marianne Vedeler

Representatives from Centre for Textile Research University of Copenhagen, University of Uppsala, The Swedish History Museum Stockholm and Museum of Cultural History , University of Oslo have established the Scandinavian research network Cloth Cultures in and Beyond Viking Age for front-line investigations and disseminations of scientific studies of clothing, household textiles, textiles for warfare and trade. The network will offer state-of-the-art knowledge with analysis of material evidence as well as written sources, and a forum for discussion and dissemination.

Cloth Cultures

We have decided to use Susanna Harris definition Cloth Cultures. Cloth type material is a term that can be used to include woven textiles, twining, looping, netting and animal skins, whether depilated or furry. Furthermore, it can also include fine metal sheet, jewellery and other items. Investigating these materials as cloth cultures, rather than individual technologies or techniques draws attention to the role and relationship between these materials in past societies and the comparative study of cloth cultures (Harris 2010).

Viking Age

Viking Age is generally defined as the time period AD 750-1050. The use of the term Viking is highly debated (e.g. Croix 2016). However, even if criticised “Viking Age” is still used by both scholars and in dissemination e.g. exhibitions. We use the term “Viking Age” to define the core period of investigation of our network. Additionally, we aim to extend our investigation to the periods before and after the Viking Age 650-1150.

The period AD 650-1150

The half-millennium from 650 to 1150 saw fundamental changes in Scandinavian societies, from central chiefdoms on the periphery of Europe to well-established Christian kingdoms with new types of economical systems and trading structures. State formations, urban systems and the influences of Christianity, warfare, exploring and colonizing regions outside Scandinavia, new trade routes and the modes and organisation of production were important parts of this development.
Although it is well-known that cloth cultures had an important impact on the societal development, this perspective is yet to be fully integrated into the general discussion of the social, economic and cultural changes that took place during this period.

The period AD 650-1150 offers rich sets of data of textiles, skin objects and textile tools from rural and urban settlements as well as burials in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which is accessible in various published works and museum collections. Previous scholarship has indicated that a series of changes took place in clothing traditions, textile design, technology and the organisation of textile production on the threshold to the Middle Ages (e.g. Geijer 1938; Bender Jørgensen 1986, 1992; Øye 1988, 2011; Gjøl Hagen 1994; Hägg 1991; Andersson 2003; Christensen and Nockert 2006, Vedeler 2007), but the wider scope of research has been hampered by the fact that data is dispersed and the lack of a good overview of sources and latest research.


New research has shown that textiles and textile tools hold a great potential for archaeological interpretation. By integrating established methods of textile analysis with new innovative ones, e.g. utilizing different isotope and DNA-analyses, new types of microscopy, combined with a clear theoretical framework, a better and more diverse understanding of the textile and skin crafts and their importance can be gained (e.g. Gleba and Mannering 2012; Frei 2013; Rast-Eicher and Bender Jørgensen 2013). Work of this kind has hitherto been focused on the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, but is fully applicable to the Viking and Early Middle Ages.

Gathering scattered knowledge

Many Scandinavian research institutions, national museums, local museums, universities and other arenas for dissemination possess knowledge about Viking Age textiles and clothing, craft technologies and knowhow about the significance of textiles and textile production in general.
The Network will unify the scattered research geographically, institutional and cross disciplines. The main objective is to strengthen historical/archaeological textile research by sharing knowledge and developing and integrating new theories and methods in this research field.
Scattered knowledge about Viking age textiles will be gathered giving a bigger picture of the cloth cultures as well as production in this period and its impact on culture and society. Furthermore, the network has potential to create a better and more unified understanding of textile research.

The network aims to

  • Facilitate new and innovative perspectives and insights into Viking Age Cloth Cultures
  • Offer scholars, students, museum workers, reenactors and other interested to develop expertise based on scientific investigations
  • Make Viking Age Cloth Cultures play a dynamic role in dissemination of the Viking Age culture and work towards an integration of these research results into general archaeological research and understanding of the past
  • Constitute a forum for scholarly discussion, to practise and receive feedback, not only on the content but also the way of disseminating the content

The Network structure and management

The steering committee are all archaeologists with specialized knowledge in the area of textile research and Viking Age studies.

The members

Associate Professor Eva Andersson Strand,
Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Senior Researcher Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson,
University of Uppsala and The Swedish History Museum Stockholm

Senior Researcher Ulla Mannering,
National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Senior Curator Amica Sundström,
The Swedish History Museum Stockholm Sweden

Professor Marianne Vedeler,
Museum of Culture History, Univ. of Oslo, Norway

Eva Anderson Strand’s primary area of research is textile production, craft organization and trade during the Iron Age and Viking Age in Scandinavia and has been working with different settlements such as Birka and Hedeby. Via recording of Viking age textile tools, their contexts in combination with theoretical frameworks and experimental archaeology she wants to show the economic, culture and social impact of textiles and textile  production in this time period. EAS has been and is a manager of several international research projects, for example Tools, Textiles and Context investigating textile production in Bronze Age Aegean and Ancient Near East and Craft Technology and Experimental Archaeology in Digital Space. She has also an experience in the supervision/mentoring of PhD and Marie Curie projects and teaching at all academic levels. Since 2015 she holds a position as lecturer in textile archaeology at the Saxo institute University of Copenhagen. Additionally, she is one of the initiators to former The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (today Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen) and since 2017 director of CTR.

Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson’s previous research has focused on warfare, identities, mobility and material culture in Late Iron Age – Viking Age societies. With a background in archaeological science and field archaeology, her work bridges the material culture and social practices of prehistory with scientific analyses, aiming at answering questions of mobility, migration, social constructions, identity and cultural transfer. Previous research projects include participation in the archaeogenetic ATLAS-project, combining archaeology, physical anthropology and genetics, and the Weltweites Zellwerk-project aiming at discussing the structuring of European economic zones and their external trading contacts during the 7th century using archaeology together with technological and scientific analyses. Since 2016 CHJ is part of the archaeological research project The Viking Phenomenon at Uppsala University. Focusing on networks of contacts in the Baltic region and in the East, she also coordinates work in the sub-project Viking Economics, aiming at exploring the economy and organization of Viking raids and their impact when shaping Scandinavian identities.

Ulla Mannering’s primary area of research is prehistoric North European textile production and clothing. UM has been analyzing textiles for numerous museums in Denmark and abroad. Her special areas of research include Scandinavian textile, skin and clothing traditions, the use and production of prehistoric plant fibre materials, especially nettle and flax using experimental archaeology, and the study of costume from iconographic sources, in particular Late Iron Age iconography. She has also worked with Roman textiles in the Mons Claudianus Textile project in Egypt. Additionally, UM is one of the initiators of The Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre for Textile Research (CTR) at the University of Copenhagen. She has been the leader of CTR’s research programmes studying the unique Danish Bronze Age and Early Iron Age textile and skin clothing collections. Since 2010 UM holds a position as senior researcher at the National Museum of Denmark.

Amica Sundström is a textile aficionado at heart. She is well-versed within her field, with a wide scope and a lot of in-depth detail, especially within weaving. At an early stage during her education, she specialized in reconstructions of prehistoric and historical textiles, which brought on the desire to learn more of their context, which is why she continued by studying archaeology and textile history.

Amica’s forte lies in the combination of practical and theoretical knowledge, where one fuels the other, respectively. She holds that there is a lot of knowledge and understanding to be gained from reenactment and creation. Her opinion is that archaeological textile fragments require a trained eye to be interpreted, but it is not just a matter of binding type or thread count. We would like to put each fragment into a relevant context, which is where crafting skills, images, sculptures, trade routes, wear and tear, burial practice and so on becomes relevant, she says. She adds that if we all contribute, we will gain much understanding and knowledge about prehistoric and historical textiles and dress.

Amica is working at the Swedish History Museum where she works as a curator, in charge of the textile collections. She is a much-appreciated speaker within the field of textiles, and specifically prehistoric textiles and dress.

Marianne Vedeler’s primary area of research is clothing and textiles from the Viking Age and late medieval periods in Scandinavia. She is also interested in textile trade and distribution, dress accessories and textiles and food as basic needs. Marianne has over 20 years of experience in museum collection management, and she currently holds a position as Professor in Archaeology at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo. She is also a member of the museum`s governing board and a member of the governing group for the new Viking Museum in Oslo.

Network Events

Together the steering group will, organise and structure network events and platforms ensuring the high level of research quality and facilitating the sharing of knowledge.

This will be done via a series of workshops and in-depth studies, each with a specific theme and taking place at different locations of interest to the group. The thematic workshops will be arranged with different specialists from various research fields. So far four workshops are planned:

1. Household textiles (2018)

The aim is to explore the variety and function of household textiles in the Viking Age. We will discuss issues including the textiles' variety of functional areas, from practical purposes such as bed linen and wall insulation to storytelling and preservers of collective myths. In collaboration with specialists on Viking Age settlement structures.

Resumé of the Sigtona Workshop 

2. Clothing (2019)

The aim of the workshop is to discuss current research based knowledge of Late Iron Age and Viking Age clothing and textile production, and to set-up a work plan for the development of a new research based Viking Age clothing concept that can be used in future museum exhibitions and other outreach projects.

Summary of the Clothing Workshop

3. Textiles for warfare (2020)

The aim is to explore the need as well as the use of textiles for travelling and warfare. This discussion will not only include costumes but also sails, tents and other textile related equipment. This will be accomplished in collaboration with colleagues specialising in Viking warfare.

4. Textiles for trade (2021)

The aim is to explore the importance of textiles in the Viking Age networks of trade, and the role of textile production in the establishing of the urban settlements or “Viking towns”. Issues to discuss will include similarities and differences between urban and rural contexts, pre-requisites for trade and movement of goods as well as possible regions of contacts and the workshop will be in collaboration with specialists on Viking Age trade.

Publishing and dissemination

Presentations from each workshop will be compiled into online publications for free download from the network online platform. Thereby, the boundaries of institutional, research disciplines and geography are overcome and is made accessible for everyone interested. The suggested network enables the establishment of new individual and collaborative national and international research projects.

An active web platform

The website will initially be hosted by CTR, University of Copenhagen with the aim to make all proceedings as widely available as possible but also to give a possibility to continue discussions. An online platform will be a tool to overcome the distances, gather research results, secure contact among members of the network and create a forum for academic discussion, reflection and sharing of knowledge. The web community will constitute a long-term investment in this particular area of research and strengthen the collaboration between institutions and individual scholars. The network is an excellent format for discovering new project partners and develop new collaborations between different institutions in this already interdisciplinary research field.

Other materials, such as articles, databases and links to different relevant forums will also be made available on the platform.


Arranging common sessions at larger archaeological conferences for example, European Association for Archaeologists’ annual meeting, American Association for Archaeologists’ annual meeting and Viking Congress.

Network Participants

They will reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the textile research field and the geographical diversity of knowledge on the subject.

Other activities

In addition, we will provide guidance, feedback and input to strengthen a new generation of scholars in the process of defining a MA or PhD project and writing applications. Seminars and minor workshops will be arranged and announced on the webpage.

For more information please contact Eva Andersson Strand, e-mail: