Burial textiles : Textile bits and pieces in central Sweden, AD 500–800
Abstract: This thesis concerns the role and use of archaeological textiles (AT) deposited in inhumation and cremation burials in Sweden dating from 500–800 AD. The AT are studied in their burial context, including all other grave goods, emphasizing that they were as important as a source for understanding society in prehistory as they are today. Textiles take a long time to produce, from the collection and gathering of raw materials such as wool, flax, silk, seaweed, birch bark, bast, bulrush, down and feathers and dyestuffs, to spinning, fulling, dyeing, weaving and skin and fur preparation, and finally to garment production. Furthermore, weaving and other types of handicraft demand logical thinking and creativity, in order to transform an idea into reality.Despite the fact that textile reconstructions are so time-consuming and require both knowledge and know-how, reconstructions of prehistoric clothing in publications or in museums are often based on very few facts, and these are mostly obtained from the small fragments of prehistoric burial textiles that have been preserved.A total of 108 Swedish graves containing AT are discussed in this thesis, dating from the Bronze Age up to the beginning of the Viking Age. During the period in question there was a gradual change in the material culture and burial customs, although two major changes in AT can be observed, around 550 and 800 AD. Around 550 AD a new elite boat-burial tradition started in the Mälaren Valley in Uppland in which the textiles included new non-figurative patterned fabrics such as soumak, honeycomb and warp or weft float. These fabrics occurred most frequently in the Early and Middle Merovingian Periods, and many of them probably came from the Continent as gifts, exchange goods, status articles, etc. It is also possible that skilled, imaginative weavers in Sweden invented some of the textile techniques.To understand burial customs and textile habits in Scandinavia during the period analysed here, one has to be aware that Frankish and Alemannic burial concepts were adopted. The textiles preserved from that time, the grave forms and the burial rituals show that the Scandinavian elite belonged to the same cultural sphere.Around 800 AD, at the transition from the Merovingian Period to the Viking Age, a change is noted in AT, including the introduction of silk, but also a shift in the use of metal threads from gold to primarily silver. This involved a shift in influences from Western Europe to the East.The AT used in the burials served three main functions: as clothing, bedding and covers or wrappings of various sorts (such as tarpaulins of birch bark, saddles or caparisons for horses and padding for shield handles). The results show that the AT used in the boat-graves were mainly identified as mattress covers, cushions, pillows, horse equipment, linings and other forms of covers and wrappings. This is in contrast to the AT in other inhumation and cremation graves from the Merovingian Period, which above all belonged to the clothing category. Detailed studies of individual boat-burials have made it possible to show that the tradition varied within Uppland, the only common denominator being the boat.
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