Skjoldehamn Find Project: Man or Woman???

When we left off, Dr. Gutrom Gjessing of the Tromsø museum had gotten the body in the mail (seriously! you can’t make this stuff up). He then shipped the body to the Anatomical Institute in Oslo for analysis.

Let’s step back for a moment to the original finding of the body.

When a farmer was cutting peat and he accidentally cut off a body’s foot, the body of the Skjoldehamn bog was discovered. By all indications, the body was originally buried where it was found. Meaning that its original resting place was the bog.

In the literature of the Middle Ages, bog burials were associated with criminals and Pagan burials (Holck 110). The truth is that we have no way of knowing why this person was buried in this bog, but we do know that much care was given to the burial of this person. Criminal, Pagan sacrifice, or a love one lost in an attack along the way, this person was treated very respectfully by whomever did the burying.

The body was well bundled in a wool blanket. Under the body was a layer of raw birch rods about 50 cm long and 4-5 cm thick (like a raft of limbs). Between the body and the limbs was a fur reindeer pelt with the fur side up. The blanket was tied on with thin leather straps from the ankle to knee and, above that, a narrow cloth band wrapped the body in the blanket. Over all of that was another layer of bark (Gjessing 28).

The body laid slanting toward the north on its left side. Its knees were slightly drawn up and its right arm was stretched down towards the knees. The farmer who wrote the description believed it was a murder rather than an execution. There was a 3 pronged hole in the skull, and brain matter and blood could be seen through the hole.

The body was still dressed. The person wore a hood, an over-tunic, an under-tunic, a woven belt, pants, 2 sets of ankle wraps, shoes and a blanket.

Back to the 1930’s. Winter passed, as winter does.

In the summer of 1937, Gutorm Gjessing traveled with wife Gertrude so to Skjoldehamn to inspect the place where the body was found. The peat bog where it was buried was an active peat site. Farmers did not stop digging up peat logs simply because a dead guy was found in it. When Gutorm and Gertrude arrived, the entire area of grave had been dug away. Although bog-walls were left neaby, the actual grave spot was gone and possibly burned during the cold winter. Gjessing and his assistants collected parts of the bog that were close to the original grave, but there was nothing left of the original site (Gjessing 29).

Gutorm did his best, but without samples of the actual site, all he had to work with was the body and what the body was found with. He analyzed the clothing: a woolen tunic, a woolen under-tunic, a pair of close fitting wool pants, woolen leg wraps, leather leg ties, a woolen hood and a pair of leather shoes. Gertrude, his wife, helped by sewing mock-ups to use as bases for the textile pieces. When you look at pictures of the Skjoldehamn textiles, the lighter brown fabric is the 1930’s mock-up fabric that Gertrude used.

In 1938, Gutorm published a long article on the Skjoldehamn clothing in Viking, one of Norway’s archaeological journals. “Skjoldehamndrakten, en Senmiddelaldersk Nordnorsk Mannsdrakt” translates into “Skjoldehamn Outfit, a Late Medieval Northern Norwegian Male Costume. Although he did a good job describing it, remeber that he was not a textile archaeologist.

Why would this make a difference? Think of someone you know who can not sew and knows little about fabric. Now imagine them trying to describe how your prom dress was constructed. They are not going to know the terms or techniques. Gutorm was mainly interested in social-archaeology and anthropology. He even left archaeology at one point to study social-anthropology, but that is another story.

Maybe because the outfit was, at the time, not considered Viking-age, which even then was all of the rage in Norway, or maybe the outfit was simply shelved in the museum and then forgotten about, but I can’t find much mention of it again until 1974.

Aagot Noss talks about the Skjoldehamn outfit in his article “Draktfunn Og Drakttradisjon I Det Vestnordiske Området Frå Vikingtid Til Høgmellomalderen” (Clothing Findings And Costume Tradition In The West Nordic region From Viking-age To the High Middle Ages.) in 1974’s Viking magazine. Of course he uses the information from Gjessing’s 1938 article and did not publish any new information.

Not until 1988 do I find evidence that the original find is actually taken out and re-examined. Published in 1988’s Viking magazine, Per Holck wrote “Myrfunnet Fra Skjoldehamn- Mannlig Same Eller Norrøn Kvinne?” (Skjoldehamn Bog Discovery – Sami Male or Norse Female?). Holck was one of the original “Bones,” aka Temperance “Bones” Brennan. He was one of the first experts in the field of forensic anthropology. He is also a widely known police expert witness in forensic science, so much so that he is a lecturer for the FBI in that field.

Holck began as a Norwegian medical doctor, who was a GP (general practitioner) beginning in the 1960’s, but his love of archaeology dates back to when he was in high school and took part in Viking-age excavations in Oslo. He never truly gave up his interest and, even in the beginning of his medical career, would often worked in excavations studying the bones he found. That takes us back to 1988 when Holck takes the Skjoldehamn bones out of storage in the Anatomical Institute in Oslo and reexamines them.

In 1936, when the bones were originally sent to the Anatomical Institute in Oslo, a Professor Schreiners made a fairly thorough inventory of the remains. Most of it was bits and pieces mostly de-calcified and deformed and nothing significant. Other than listing in detail what type of bones he found, Professor Schreiners did not show much interest in examining the bones further. He believed that little information could be gathered from what remained of the Skjoldehamn body.

When Holck reexamines the bones in 1988, he finds that not much has changed. Holck feels that the acids in the Skjoldehamn bog most likely shrunk the bones from their original size. He even describes the skull cap as a wrinkled hat!

Taking into account the shrinkage, he felt that the Skjoldehamn person was of small build and not a large individual. Like “Bones,” he used the attachment points of muscles, ligaments, and tendons to figure out what body type the person would have had.

Not enough of the leg bones remain to determine height, but based on where the muscles attach to the bones, the person was not a large hulk of a figure, probably well toned but not bulky. Remember, of the bones that remained, nothing remained that could point to the sex of this person. There was nearly nothing of the pelvis left.

We can not definitively tell the sex, age or height of the Skjoldehamn person based off of what remains. Holck, using mainly the size of the bones (which had been shrunk) and the size of the attachment points (which the shrinkage may have distorted), theorized that the Skjoldehamn person was either a Norse female or a Sami male. (Holck 113).

Holck, as brilliant as he is, is just guessing. It is an educated guess, no doubt, but still a guess. Remember how many factors we are dealing with to make this guess:

  • only fragments of bones remain
  • these bones are over 1,000 years old
  • the acids and chemicals in the bog have shrunk it
  • the decay from shipping the bones without treating them (from Skjoldehamn to Tromsø museum) rendered some bones to dust
  • no sex-determining bones are left
  • no fragments large enough to determine height
  • not enough left or in good enough shape to determine an age

Even Holck does not seem solid about his guess and admits that there are simply too many variables to know for certain based off of the bones alone.

At this time, our DNA testing was nearly non-existent. Even contemporary crimes were not being solved by DNA evidence.

More next time!

Esperanza de Navarra

Gjessing, Gutorm. “Skjoldehamndrakten, en Senmiddelaldersk Nordnorsk Mannsdrakt.” Viking, Tidsskrift for Norrøn Arkeologi. 2 (1938) pp.27-81.

Holck, Per. “Myrfunnet Fra Skjoldehamn- Mannlig Same Eller Norrøn Kvinne?” Viking: Tidsskrift for Norrøn Arkeologi 51 (1988): 109-16.

Noss, Aagot. Draktfunn og drakttradisjon i det vestnordiske området frå vikingtid til høgmellomalderen. Viking Ridsskrift for norrøn arkeolgi. 38 (1974) pp.39-65.

Are Pokemon Swarming Your SCA Fighter Practices????

My fellow SCA’dains have been finding many an inquisitive Pokemon trainer at practices and other SCA events. I started thinking. Why not take advantage of this increase in exposure? What can we do to show them who we are and that we would love for them to play with us when not catching Pokemon?

These wonderings, along with my love of mash-ups led me to create an SCA flyer that will attract the attention of anyone playing Pokemon Go!  It’s the standard SCA flyer wording with a twist. Plus it’s made in a format to be folded into a pocket booklet (which was a long way for a pun: Pokemon = pocket monster and thus needed a pocket booklet🙂.

Esperanza de Navarra Pokemon GO SCA Flyer

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve been dying to share this with the world at large.  If I’m having fun with something, I always hope that others will too.  The flyer takes up one complete side, but that leaves the other side for information of your local group.  Even if you don’t add anything about your group, the flyer will point anyone to the main SCA page.

Please print it out as is.  I’ve sought permission from all of the artists to use their work, and nothing disrespects an artist more than using their creation without giving them credit.

You can download it as a pdf as well:

Esperanza de Navarra Pokemon GO SCA Flyer

 

Baton Rouge Flooding

It’s been 11 years since Katrina hit us. Maybe I bring it up more often than is polite, but it has colored every single decision I make since then. Going through something so large and devastating, that it added nuances to the word devastating, changes you. It also means that when historic flooding happens literally in your back yard, it doesn’t bother you all that much.

Not that I feel that loss and pain are nothing, but my mind goes into work mode and starts listing out what needs to be done. All the while, every time I hear that a friend has lost their home, the mantra plays over and over that at least the people got out. Stuff can be replaced, people can not.

Meanwhile I am asked “What can we do?” If only the answer were simple.

At first, nothing. Right now the water is not completely gone. Many roads are still streams. Some people are still trapped, and boat rescues are trying to reach them.

As the water goes down and people are able to get back home, the list of what we do and do not need gets specific.

First needs:

Rubber boots – yards have become marsh and have snakes

Mosquito repellent: hot + wet + Louisiana = massive mosquito explosion

Cortisone creams to treat mosquito and ant bites.

Razor knives, good quality. To cut wet sheet rock and remove carpet before the entire house mildews.

Carpet knives, good quality. See above.

Garbage bags, big and industrial strength to hold carpet, sheet rock, a ton of damaged items and keep in the smell of week old rotten food.

Bleach

Isopropyl alcohol, 90%

Spray bottles, the good kind from Lowes and Home Depot that don’t break after 3 squirts. Spraying stuff down with bleach kills the germs. Spraying stuff down with alcohol helps speed the drying.

Rubber gloves, the good ones that don’t rip.

Hand sanitizer

Bottled water – the individual kind that is horrid for the environment. We need stuff we can open, drink and through the bottle away.

These things seem so mundane, but after a day or two, we will not be able to find them in our area. Have you ever driven two hours, on gas and time you did not want to spare, to get a good razor knife?

Gift cards let people get what they really need.

Lowes & Home Depot

Walmart and Target

Chain Restaurants, because sometimes what you most need is to get a hot meal and feel like things are normal for an hour.

What we do NOT need:

Clothing

After Katrina, church groups bussed truckloads of used clothing into the cities, but they did not logic out that those who did not lose their houses still had their clothing and those who lost their houses had no place to keep the clothing. All of this clothing was abandoned in the parking lots of grocery stores that never reopened. It piled up into huge dump-sized piles. Got wet. Mildewed. And then caused us to have to clean up something that we should not have had to clean up.

The same goes for:

Furniture

Kitchen stuff

Think if you were living in your car or in a friend’s spare room, what kind of stuff would you look at and say, “I have no clue where to put this.” We don’t need that stuff.

If you have to donate clothing, clean, unused, brand new, still in the package underwear. And new socks! Everyone needs that. Towels too. Not clothing, but useful.

I had little kids when Katrina hit. My baby had his first birthday in the home of the wonderful people who we evacuated to. I had never met these people before Katrina hit. I still love them. My oldest was 15 and thought she lost everything.

Lots of people here have kids too. What do kids want when they have lost everything? Colors and coloring books are not their generation. They need real distractions.

What Kids Need:

Hand held game devices with lots of batteries.

Mp3 players, preloaded with modern music

Tablets – i.e. portable computers that allow them to communicate with friends to make sure that they too are alright. They have people they also want to check on.

Don’t forget the pets. The shelters are loaded and many temporary ones are taking in animals that could not be evacuated.

Pet food: the good stuff. Lots of pets can’t stomach the cheap food.

Blankets and pet beds.

Only a select unlucky few get to go through major natural disasters more than one in their lives. It does change you, but it makes you realize that life goes on and stuff can be replaced. Also that certain things need to be done in a certain order. Share if you think this will help someone.

Josie Esperanza Sewell

Skjoldehamn Find Project: Finding the Body

When we left off, I started to describe the location of the Skjoldehamn site and I promised a story.

One probably very cold day in June 1936 in the town of Skjoldehamn on the island of Andøya on the northern coast of Norway along the Norwegian sea, a man named Rikart Olsen was cutting peat to use as heat in the coming winter. That part of Norway is damn cold and under snow for most of the year. To get through a winter, a-lot of peat needs to be cut and dried.

If you have never seen a peat bog, they are unusual things. The bog gets drained and then the land is systematically cut up with long thin shovels into rectangular cubes. Peat, as I said in my last post, is compacted partly decayed organic matter found in bogs, peatlands, moors or what we in Louisiana call swamps.

Here’s a wiki-commons photo from 1905 of peat being cut and stacked to dry.

Peat_stacks_and_cutting
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peat_stacks_and_cutting.JPG

Do you see what I mean by systematic? You start cutting and continue cutting along a row. When the row is done, you go back to the beginning and cut one log deeper along the same row. So on and so forth until you have cut several feet deep. Then you start cutting on row two.When you are cutting up a peat bog, you don’t just dig willy nilly.

Back to a day in June in 1936.

Mr. Rikart Olsen was systematically cutting peat logs. A peat spade is a long, thin, flat shovel with a sharp end. Mr. Olsen plunged his shovel into the peat to cut a cube when he suddenly realized that he had cut through someone’s foot. He freaked the heck out! Wouldn’t you??

His freaking out caused a bit of an uproar and everyone stopped digging peat and came to see what Rikart had found. Finally someone called the chief of police to figure out what to do.

Bogs can preserve things really well. In the right circumstances, a bog can nearly mummify a body. Bog water is highly acidic and bogs have very little oxygen. Combine that with Norway’s very cold temperatures and things just don’t rot like they do in warm places. Since a bog can keep a body in good shape for a long time, these people had no clue how old the corpse was or if it was a recent murder.

The chief looked over the remains and decided that the body was old enough that it was not a crime he had to solve. He ordered the farmers to bury the body in a church cemetery.

They did not.

It is suspected that because Skjoldehamn is such a remote community, it was still Pagan at its core even in the 1930’s. Very remote northern European towns did not convert to Christianity early. Even when they did, they never fully left their Pagan practices.

Instead of giving the old corpse a “Christian burial,” a farmer named Hans Liavik re-buried the body in the marsh on his own property. Since digging up peat is systematic, he could not simply rebury it where it was found. In fact, the specific place where the body was found was immediately cut into logs for use.

Hans did have the forethought to contact the nearest museum to see if they were interested in the find.

Remember the year we are in. It is 1936. Remote communities like this one may not have had a telephone. Communication was slow. They wrote letters and the post man neither delivered nor picked up mail every day on this remote island.

Hans sent a message to the Tromsø museum about the find, but the word did not reach Tromsø until fall. Hans did his very best to describe what was found in as much detail as he could, but he was a farmer and not a trained archaeologist.

Professor Gutrom Gjessing, to whom Hans had written, thought that the body was from the 19th century based on Hans’s letter. The oldest he thought it might be was late 18th century. Awesome find that it was, Gutrom felt that is was not awesome enough to travel to Skjoldehamn in winter.

Skjoldehamn is cold and often snowy. Gutrom let Hans know that he would come to the site in spring or summer of the next year (1937) and asked Hans if he would ship the body using the post office. . .

Yes, you read correctly. “Please bundle that body up in a box and ship it to me on that mail boat you guys use.” And that is exactly what Hans did.

The way Hans described it, the body was originally in good condition. For being a farmer, Hans had an eye for details. The body was found slanting toward the north and laying on its left side. Its knees were slightly drawn up and its right arm was stretched down towards the knees.

Hans described a three-pronged skull fracture and said that the he could see the brain mass through the hole and a bright red spot just inside the fracture. At this point, the bones and the skull were preserved and even the brain was present. The organs may have also been there, but Hans did not do an autopsy.

Although bogs preserve bodies well, once they are unearthed, oxygen is introduced. By the time the body had been reburied, re-dug up, wrapped in a box and shipped two ferry rides and many hours by truck (if they didn’t use horse and cart) to the museum, the condition was not good.

Gutrom sent the bones to the Anatomical Institute in Oslo, and in a letter from Dr Gjessing dated Dec 11, 1936 to Professor K. E. Schreiner of the institute, he describes how badly the body had deteriorated:

“Dear Mr. Professor. I’m sending you today the sad remains of a skeleton found in the swamp on Nygård Skjoldehamn, Bjørnskinn, Dverberg pgd., Nordland. The skeleton was found dressed in clothing and buried ~80 cm deep in the bog, covered by its fists and a fur pelt. Of the bones, the skull was in somewhat good shape but has now crumbled virtually to dust. Letter showed however that the body was a medium-sized man ( Gjessing is referring to the description from Hans).

The clothes were tolerably well preserved, and as far as I can tell it is a Norwegian costume from later Middle Ages. He was wearing a “kaprun,” a medieval cap that went far down the shoulders. That the man was wearing stocking implies that it is a Norwegian and not a Lapp costume. The Lapps have never used these.

This find is of very great interest in costume history, it would be of great importance if the remains by themselves could determine whether the man was a Norwegian or Lapp … “

 p111-112: Holek, Per. “Myrfunnet Fra Skjoldehamn- Mannlig Same Eller Norrøn Kvinne?” Viking: Tidsskrift for Norrøn Arkeologi 51 (1988): 109-16.

In a letter back to Gjessing, Professor Schreiner said that he could not identify whether it was Lapp or Nordic because the bones were in such bad shape.

I often think about what would have happened if Dr. Gjessing would have immediately gone to Skjoldehamn and brought the body back and preserved it better. How much more would we have learned if we had the brain tissue of a 1,000 person?

I wish I could say today that this would never happen, but I really don’t know.  We all do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at the time. I’m sure that Gutrom wondered the same thing.

More next time!

Esperanza de Navarra

Skjoldehamn Find Project: Where is Skjoldehamn

Almost a year ago, King James and Queen Joan of Gleann Abhann announced that Baron Gellir Gunnarson, one of my best friends, would be elevated to the Order of the Pelican, one of the highest honors in the SCA. Being me, I wanted to dress him.

That started my Skjoldehamn project, which is thankfully coming near an end. The end will be at Kingdom A&S in September. At which point, poor Gellir will get to take the dang thing home with him.

 

Not that I did not love playing dress-up, but this simple tunic has taken so many hours that I now hate this shade of blue, which was once my favorite!

Granted, I am a slow seamstress, but the main issue was making this tunic entirely authentic to the Skjoldehamn find, including the itty bitty stitches they used in the seams. Not realizing how tall my friend is (in my head all people are either shorter than me, taller than me or way taller than me), I had not realized how many linear yards of internal seams there would be.

Since I don’t even research half-assedly, I also translated enough research on the Skjoldehamn find to use as a masters degree dissertation! Be prepared to be overwhelmed with as many aspects of the Skjoldehamn find as you can imagine.

Why my fascination with the outfit from the Skjoldehamn find?

Much of the background information on the find itself and the clothing is not in English, but in Norwegian. Most of what I now know and now find fascinating, I didn’t know when I first started researching it. The Skjoldehamn outfit initially appealed to me because it is one of the most complete Viking-age outfits that we have ever found.

The clothing items include:

  • Overtunic
  • Undertunic
  • Pants
  • Hood
  • Leg wraps
  • Woven belt

And that’s just the cloth items!

The items individually are well enough preserved that there is a wealth of information to gain from them. Even with all of this, the clothing, until recently, the Skjoldehamn clothing was not well researched or documented. Why?

I do not know for certain why this find has been ignored, but by the end of this journey I will share my thoughts on the subject.

Let’s start with some background.

Background on the Skjoldehamn Find

Timing

The body was discovered the same month as the first Viking-age clothing was found in Sweden – June 1936. This is 2 years before Agnes Geijer writes her definitive work on Viking-age textiles focusing on the Birka find, Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern. Clothing and textiles, at this time in archaeology, were not considered important. Everyone focused on the weapons and artifacts.

Place
Skjoldehamn is located on the northern tip of Norway on the coast of the Norwegian Sea. Thanks to Google Maps, we can get an idea of how far north this place is.

 

I’ve circle Skjoldehamn in red. Skjoldehamn is located on the island of Andøya in the cluster circled.

It is not a very pleasant place. Saying it is cold is an insult to cold places.

For example, today here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the high was 84°F, felt like it was 93, and it rained almost all day. Hot and rainy is typical southern Louisiana weather in June. 84°F for June is actually fairly cool, but I suspect that most places in the US are closer to the mid 70’s.

The high in Skjoldehamn today was a whopping 45°F and felt like 39°F. It also rained there, but, while our low tonight will be 70°F, their low is 27°F and feeling like 5°F. 5°F!! In June!!

That area of Norway is bleak, even for Norway, and under snow a good portion of the year, yet it does have a long history. Traces of a medieval road connect Skjoldehamn it to southern areas in Norway. Even back in the Viking-age, people traveled to this remote location. In the 1930’s, Skjoldehamn was a fairly sparsely populated farming village. It was old, but not as old as many other villages.

The island of Andøya, where Skjoldehamn is located, does not have much lumber for burning. Most people burn bricks of peat for warmth. Peat is compacted partly decayed organic matter found in bogs or peatlands. Bogs are pretty common in northern Europe and burning peat is common too. Scotland is well known for its peat bricks, and it is the spring water filtering through the peat that gives Scotch its earthy flavor.

That’s where I’m going to leave you today. Next I’ll tell you a nice bedtime story of why the find got so f’d up.

Esperanza de Navarra

Random Ranting for June

I have been quiet here. Not really busy and life hasn’t thrown any curve balls. Let’s say that this little hiatus is a result of a pile of obsessions.

What is a pile of obsessions? Maybe you never get piled on with things that hold your interest so deeply that you can’t talk or think about anything else, but in my world it happens a few times a year. In the past Hogwarts camps have been a culprit.

Hogwarts camp is where I spend two weeks with other Potter Heads being a Professor and sometimes Head of House for various Harry Potter themed summer camps. Meet Professor T. N. Crumpets:

I have more alternate personas than my SCA one. I can think of 5 off-hand, and I’m sure there are a few others out there. Not multiple personalities. Thankfully I don’t have that problem, at least. They are simply a result of a very full, well-lived and well versified life.

Back to my pile of obsessions . . .

My best friend Brigida, current Baroness of Axemoor (i.e. New Orleans), gifted me with a lampwork kit that belonged to the late Baron Ladislaus du Brody, an extremely talented artist. It was simply a Hot Head torch, some tools and some glass, and I have fallen in love! And I am rubbish at it.

Horrible, just horrible. Here are a few of my beads, and these are not even ones from the first couple of weeks. These are some of my best!! Sad, huh?

Lumpy, lopsided, lemon-shaped beasties, and I love them!!!

Do I really love sucking at something so much? YES!! But not for the reason you think.

Most of the topics I speak about here, although I’m not an expert, I’m not new either. I’ve been such a dilettante for so long, there isn’t much I haven’t tried. Yet I have never, ever tried lampworking. Brand new arts can be very addicting, something I had forgotten. Setting aside the addiction part, learning something totally new can be such a rush!

Hopefully, I will not suck forever. Nor am I saying that there are things I do all of the time that I don’t completely suck at.

Driving:
There is a rule when I am driving that all of my kids know and many kids who aren’t mine know. Be silent when Mommy makes a left turn. Not only do they hold all questions to me, but they stop talking to each other.

I’m so bad at it, that friend’s children, who were riding in a totally different vehicle, have cheered me on when I have successfully made a left turn in heavy traffic, and they didn’t even mean it sarcastically!

Singing:
5 years of chorus in primary school, and I am still tone deaf and sing like Scuttle from the Little Mermaid. Yet, that does not stop me.

Generally, I’ll misquote Algernon from The Importance of Being Earnest and say, "It’s not the talent with which I sing but the enthusiasm that is important."

Actual quote:
“I don’t play accurately–any one can play accurately–but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.”

There are other things I’m rubbish at, but on to more fun things!

Add to the bead-making, after nearly 22 years of promising my husband, I finally started Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Even though I’m only listening to the unabridged audio-books, that is one friggin’ dense series. I got all the through book 8, realized that I couldn’t remember which minor characters did what, and I had to start back at the beginning. I’ve finally got through book 6 again, and now my brain needs a break.

Great series!! But man, oh man, it is full of lots of little details and it is not something I can casually listen to and know what is happening.

There are certain things I can do while listening to it. Hand sewing, simple embroidery, cleaning house, but I can not do anything that requires actual thinking. My research and writing has been suffering the most. Even lampworking is too much thinking for keeping up with the goings-on of those folk.

The conclusion I reached is that I will have to bite off smaller chunks of the Wheel of Time and not marathon listen to it. Another conclusion: I do not multitask. That is not how my ADD works. Yet another conclusion: I’m not flaky, but I am really flighty. Think Toreador from Vampire the Masquerade 2nd edition, "caught in the grip of constantly shifting passions."

I do have a ton of stuff that I need to post about. A whole series on the Skjoldehamn find is nearly ready. I’ve translated and written a bunch of information on Viking-age Russian clothing. Now that Robert Jordan is not being heard every waking moment, including during my insomnia episodes, and sometimes when I go to sleep, I can share more.

To have such passion for life and art can be both a blessing and a curse,
Esperanza

The Vikings Didn’t Wear That!

There are two things (well . . . at least two things) that have slowed actual information on the Rus as far as costuming go. One concerns incorrect ideas that have simply not lost sway. The other concerns politics.

When I’m talking to someone with a Viking persona about what they want their garb to look like, I generally sketch out some ideas. Almost half of the time they tell me that one or two of the things I sketched aren’t Viking and that they are Rus or early period Russian. Mainly, it’s the kaftan-like coat and the poofy pants.

My first reaction, after confusion, is to tell them that some of the best extant pieces of these garments come from Viking finds in Scandinavian countries – Birka and Hedeby respectively. Granted, those cities were trade cities with people from all over the known world, but the graves that the extant pieces came from were Scandinavian-type graves. So why do they think that these are Rus or early Russian articles of clothing?

Generally, they don’t really know the exact reason other than that friends who have Rus personas often wear them. To which I say that maybe they were Rus items of clothing, but you can not argue with the hard evidence that they were Viking as well.

Over the years of battling this common misconAlexander Vasilevich Viskovatov uniformception, I’ve developed a pet theory. We’ve all seen Fiddler on the Roof, and we’ve all seen pictures of early Russian folk costumes. My educated guess was that since we’ve seen Russians wearing the kaftan and the poofy pants, despite that the context was centuries after the Vikings, we still associate those items with Russia. Somewhere in our brains we have overlapped images of 19th century Russian folk costumes with the costumes that people would wear in Viking-age Russia.

An example is the image on the right from Alexander Vasilevich Viskovatov’s 19th century book “The Historical Description of Clothing and Weapons of Russian Troops.”  Does the outfit these “17th century” soldiers wear look familiar?

At the time, not having researched into Russian garb, I had no idea if those items were part of the Viking-age Russian costume, but I did know that they were Viking.

A while ago, while researching Rus garb, I was translating Saburova’s essay “The Old Costume” and I read something that he wrote. Basically, when the field of archeology opened up in the mid 19th century, it was okay to write wild theories with little or no proof and not have people read you the riot act. In 1868, this guy Golovatsky wrote a book saying that the 19th century folk costume had a direct line back to medieval Russia down to the tailoring techniques. In 1916, this fellow Volkov picked up the torch and kept it going. After that, we have a whole slew of other archaeologists who perpetuate this idea.

In the 1800’s and early 1900’s we had very little extant evidence to say one way or another. Any theory can be true when we are simply guessing. But why did this theory stick for so long?

That’s when the politics came in. During the era of Soviet Russia, it was down-right dangerous to promote ideas about the Slavic culture being influenced by anyone outside of Russia. Basically, they wanted to believe that the Kiev State and the then modern Russian State developed all on its own.

During this time we have a great amount of archeological finds popping up with extant fabric, but it was not a bright idea to say that the people in these grave-finds were of Viking origin. Not until the fall of communism in the early 1990’s were the scholars able to start comparing the textiles find in Viking-age Russian graves to the textiles found in Viking cities.

Does this mean that the kaftan coat and the poofy pants were not worn by the Rus? Not necessarily. It simply means that even if the Rus wore them, the Vikings wore them too. It also means that my confusion makes sense. Hopefully as we reexamine more and more of the Viking-age finds in Russia, we can unlock what the Rus actually wore.

Saburova, M. A. “The Old Costume.” Ancient Russian. Life and Culture. Moscow: Moscow House: Science, 1997. 93-109.
Сабурова, M. A. “Древнерусский костюм.” Древняя Русь. Быт и культура. Москва: Москва, издательство «Наука», 1997. 93-109.