New discovery of Viking Age clothing from Pskov, Russia

E. Zubkova, O. Orfinskaya, D. Likhachev [1]

Notes and summary by Peter Beatson (NVG Miklagard)


Introduction

This is a preliminary report and description of textiles discovered in 2006 during archaeological investigations of an urban site at Pskov in Russia [2]. Since 2004 three chamber graves with rich inventories dating to the 10th century have been uncovered - in the third was a wad of textiles [3]. Once cleaned and unfolded, the bundle proved to be composed of two silk-trimmed garments, and enclosed a pair of bronze brooches. Rather than dressing the deceased, the clothing had been carefully folded and stowed in a birch box with a leather lid, which was placed under the floor of the grave chamber.


Oval Brooches

Oval or 'tortoise' brooches are a Scandinavian ornament, thought to fasten that classic Viking age female garment, the Hängerock or hanging skirt [4]. Only one of the pair is illustrated - it is very large at 13.5 cm long, but the ornamentation of the outer face is not shown or described. The rim is pierced at the "7 o'clock" position. Preserved within their interiors are textile remains, which include loops made of blue linen cloth [5].


Garment 1 - 'Sarafan' (hanging skirt) [6]

The largest textile remnant is 152 cm long and 25.5 cm wide, it is made of pieces cut from some different patterned silks of Byzantine type [7] (Figure 1). It is a panel composed of three strips, the upper and lower are blue, width 9-10cm, and the middle purple-red (width approx. 6cm). A blue silk strip continues from each of the lower corners, defining a border with an overall step-like appearance, however only short lengths of these strips are preserved. The entire edge is also trimmed with a blue silk binding [8]. Marks of stitching indicate where the linen loops fastened around the pins of the oval brooches may originally have attached. The blue linen base fabric to which these silk borders were presumably appliqued has almost completely decayed, so the original construction, length and width of the garment cannot now be determined.

Figure 1- Silk appliques from Garment 1, after conservation [9]. A: armpit, note slightly rounded corners. B: edge binding, blue silk.


Garment 2 - 'Rubakha' (shift) [10]

A second garment was constructed from the same or similar blue linen, part of the neck opening survives (Figure 2):

Figure 2 - Part of neck opening of a linen garment, arrows indicate direction of weave [11].

The material was gathered in fine pleats and bound with a narrow linen strip, the free ends of which were tied together to close a small slit which allowed the head to pass through. The presence of long sleeves is demonstrated by deep cuffs of red silk [12]. A seperate red silk strip may belong to the lower margin of the garment [13].


Reconstruction

The state of the remains allowed confident reconstruction of Garment 1 as a tubular hanging dress (Figure 3):

Figure 3 - Reconstruction [14]. A. sarafan over rubakha, front; B. sarafan, rear; C. as worn.

The large triple silk panel was attached at the front in the chest area, the sides and back were cut lower and edged by a single blue strip. Stitch holes show where loops and straps were attached front and back. In Scandinavian graves the presence of oval brooches connecting linen straps denotes a hanging dress [15], however the distance between the front loops here [16] suggests a non-fitted garment, possibly two metres in circumference, which must have required some draping and/or folding to wear. Whether these remains may in fact be open to other interpretations must await fuller publication of this exciting find.


NOTES

[1] From their report in Russian, entitled 'Tkanoe sokrovische (nachodki tekstilia v kamernom pogrebenii X veka, 2006 god.)', published on the PSKOV ARCHAEOLOGICAL CENTRE (PAC) website, at - http://pskovarheolog.ru/68.html

[2] Excavations at the Old Church of the Ascension in Sovetskaya Street, directed by E.A. Iakovlev. Hearty thanks to fellow Varangian Artem Nagorskiy, also of Miklagard, who drew my attention to this discovery, and as a native speaker has also checked my interpretation of the original report. PB.

[3] Photographs on PAC website: <68-150.jpg> in situ; <68-153.jpg> after cleaning, before unfolding. PB.

[4] The literature is extensive, but the fundamental works are: A. Geijer, Birka III: Die Textilen. KVHAA, Uppsala 1938 ; I. Hägg, Kvinnodräkten i Birka: Kvinnodräkten rekonstruktion på grundval av det arkeologiska materialet ( Aun 2 ). Institutionen för Arkeologi, Uppsala 1974.

[5] Refer to photograph <68-149.jpg>, in the brooch illustrated (probably the left) one well-preserved loop of blue linen is visible fastened around the catch end of the pin, as well as fragments of some ?pleated cloth in plain (tabby) weave. In photograph <68-146.jpg>, a close view of a loop, width 1.3 cm, tabby weave, one system (parallel to the length) is narrower ~20 threads/cm, the other thicker ~15 threads/cm. PB.

[6] Sarafan: The term is acknowledged to be anachronistic. The sarafan is a component of recent Great Russian folk costume, a pinafore-style dress of semicircular cut, closed with buttons down the front. Examples - see M. Tilke, Costume Patterns and Designs, reprinted Rizzoli, NY 1990, plate 50. Costume historians have previously sought its origin in Viking dress - Hägg, 1974 (Note 4). PB.

[7] ES Zubkova, OV Orfinskaya and KA Mikhailov: ' Textiles from a Scandinavian burial of the Viking age in Pskov'.  Abstracts of the Tenth North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles (NESAT X), Copenhagen 13-18 May 2008, p.26-27.

[8] About 0.7 cm wide, measured from photograph <68-153.jpg>. PB.

[9] Sketch after photo <68-148.jpg>. The same is also shown partly unfolded <68-155.jpg>. PB.

[10] Rubakha: This term is found in medieval usage. PB.

[11] Sketch after photograph <68-145.jpg>. Blue linen in tabby weave, one system (indicated by the arrows) is narrower ~25 threads/cm, the other thicker ~15 threads/cm. PB.

[12] About 12.5 cm deep and 20-21 cm in circumference at the wrist, measured from photograph <68-147.jpg>. PB.

[13] About 4.2 cm wide, with simple hems in running stitch, from photograph <68-143.jpg>. PB.

[14] Redrawn, from image <68-156.jpg> on the PAC website. I doubt that the dress could work just as shown, in particular something is needed to prevent the straps from slipping off the shoulders. In another sketch, the authors have added a narrow apron to connect the brooches. PB.

[15] Chiefly that studied at Birka, Sweden: see Note 4 above. PB.

[16] About 85 cm - compare this to around 20 cm in Birka grave 597 (Hägg, 1974). PB.




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