The Common Thread, Textile Production during the Late Iron Age and Viking Age

University dissertation from Arkeologiska institutionen Sandg 1, 223 50 Lund

Abstract: The initial aim of the present PhD thesis was to develop the method of classification for textile tools to facilitate the study of textile production in an archaeological context. The thesis consists of five separate projects and a concluding summary. The study covers the late Iron Age, mainly the Viking Period. Geographically, the study covers the regions of Scania, in S.W. Sweden, with seven settlement sites and the Mälar Valley, in central Sweden, which includes the Viking Period trading settlement of Birka and six rural settlements. In the last study a comparative analysis also includes the contemporary trading settlement of Haithabu in Schleswig-Holstein. The five articles are:–Invisible Handicrafts, The General Picture of Textile and Skin Crafts in Scandinavian Surveys. Lund Archaeological Review 1. 1995 (Andersson 1996a) –Textilproduktion i arkeologisk kontext, en metodstudie av yngre järnåldersboplater i Skåne, REPORT SERIES No. 58, INSTITUTE OF ARCHAEOLOGY, University of Lund (Andersson 1996b) –Sländspinning med ull i vikingatid och nutid. Eksperimentel Arkæologi, studier i teknologi og kultur, Historisk-Arkæologiska Forsøgscenter. (Andersson & Batzer, in print) –Textilproduktion i Löddeköpinge – endast för husbehov? Löddeköpinge RAÄ skriftserie (Andersson, in print) –Textilproduktion i Birka, med en jämförande analys av Hedeby och samtida bosättningar i mälarområdet , Birka studies. (Andersson, in print) The results of the first separate projects have led to new questions and a gradual change in focus of the study. The study of textile tools from agrarian settlements in Scania demonstrated that textile production varied across settlements of different economic status.The results also confirmed the significance of analysing the textile tools on the basis of their function. Both the analysis of the actual tools, and the textile experiments, showed that within the individual tool types, clusterings in terms of size are a good indication of the type of textile that was produced. Spinning experiments demonstrated that it is above all the weight and diameter of the spindle whorl that determines the fineness of the spun thread and a significant result was the confirmation that a difference of only 5-10 g in the weight of the spindle affected the fineness of the spun thread. The analysis demonstrates that both Birka and Haithabu had a varied textile production, and that the range of products was similar at both sites. The light spindle whorls indicate substantial output of high-quality thread, equivalent to the worsted yarn used for high quality textiles. At the same time, the tools reveal evidence for the production of domestic textiles on a scale which could meet the demands of large populations at these settlements. The presence of heavy spindle whorls indicates that the demand for sail cloth could also be satisfied. The large quantities of raw material and many work hours required strongly suggest the existence of organised sail-cloth production.Analyses of the textile tools from Birka and Haithabu clearly show that it was possible to produce the high-quality textiles known from associated cemeteries on-site. The close similarities in functional grouping of tool types on the two sites do not support a textile trade from, say, Haithabu to Birka. The aim of the investigations has been to approach textile production through a detailed and objective study of the tools that were used. There are many source-critical problems associated with this. Nevertheless, a significant result of the work has been the discovery that the domestic textile production was more complex than hitherto assumed.

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