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The textiles among the Oseberg finds

The two women buried in the Oseberg ship were accompanied by a lavish array of textiles designed for a range of uses. It was clear even during the excavation that the large numbers of textiles constituted a key feature of the Oseberg finds.

© Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo/ Eirik Irgens Johnsen

Great variation

The Oseberg textiles vary widely in respect of quality, weaving techniques and materials. Here we find imported silks, embroideries using silk thread, ornamental tapestries, tablet bands and woollen fabrics for a variety of uses.

The ornamental tapestries

These narrow tapestries are woven in a combination of wool and a weft made of a plant material, possibly flax, which has disappeared. The tapestries portray a multitude of different animals and people, carts, houses and decorative geometric ornamentation. A large number of tablet woven bands were also found in the Oseberg mound. Most of these are woven in different coloured wools that form geometric patterns. Silk thread has also been used in some of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Coarser woollen fabrics

Coarser wool fabrics patterned with geometric designs were also found in abundance in the grave. Diamonds and crosses are the dominating patterns. These materials are perhaps the remains of draperies used in furnishing.

Silk materials

As well as the furnishing textiles, Gustafson and his archaeological team found altogether fifteen different silk materials. These are textiles with patterns that are very similar to relic shrouds from a number of Christian churches in Europe, including churches in Achen, Chelles, Liége and Mariastein. The silk materials in the Oseberg grave were cut into narrow ribbons and were perhaps used to decorate the women’s garments. Silk was imported from Central Asia and the regions surrounding the eastern Mediterranean.

Embroideries

Embroideries in multi-coloured silk with patterns of tendrils, spirals, animals and geometric ornamentations formed part of the grave goods. They may also have served as trimming on the women’s garments. The embroideries may have been made somewhere in the British Isles.

The decorative embroidered textiles lay alongside a large quantity of other fabrics. Following investigations by Anne Stine Ingstad these have been divided into 19 different groups according to quality, and have possibly been used for very different purposes such as tent covers, clothes and bedlinen. All of these fabrics are made of wool.

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By Marianne Vedeler
Published July 8, 2016 12:11 PM - Last modified Oct. 20, 2016 1:17 PM