Skjoldehamn Arm Cuff Band and Other Related Miscellany

The Original Skjoldehamn Garments

The Skjoldehamn find posed (the body was not in this position when found)

These are some thoughts and conclusions based on a cursory study of the Skjoldehamn find. More research is indicated.

The find occurred in Skjoldehamn Norway in 1936. Initially police in the area thought it was a recent death and ordered it re-buried. The Tromso museum heard of the find and re-excavated it within the year. The find went to the Tromso museum. It turned out to be a find of incredible significance in its age and amazingly well preserved garments as well as an area of continuing discussion regarding the gender and ethnicity of the individual in question.

skjoldedamen sleeve and cuff

These garments are enormously popular in the historical re-creation community particularly the hood. They are all very well made and very beautiful. The find intrigued me because a friend posted a photo on facebook of a reconstruction of a sleeve band and the question of it being woven via tablet or rigid Heddle technique. I am limiting myself to three questions and my thoughts are only worthy as a cursory tuck-in to the subject. There are far more knowlegable people who have spent years of their life on the subject. Keep that in mind and do more research.


Is the individual male or female?

Is the woven band on the sleeve tablet woven or rigid heddle woven?

Is the individual of Saami or Norse ethnicity?

State of the find:

“The Skjoldehamn costume consisted of a body with hood (kaprun), outer skirt (kofte), inner skirt (skjorte), trousers (bukser), a belt, foot wrappings (ankelkluter) and bands (ankelsurringer), socs (lester) and shoes (sko).  The body was wrapped in a carpet [poor translation.. It was a ‘checked fabric blanket’] (teppe) knitted with beautiful bonds (band) and leather straps.”

“ The famous Norwegian archaeologist Guttorm Gjessing visited the site year after and excavated the site some more.  At the bottom of the bog of approximately one meters depth he found a knife handle of oak and remnants telling him the wrapped body to be buried on reindeerskin on top of 4 – 5 birch branches and covered by birch bark (never).”

For a large number of years Gjessing was ‘the’ authority on this find having been the one to do examinations and excavations of the site (a farmer excavated the body). He guessed the body to be male based on it wearing pants and the presence of the knife handle. In addition he dated the find to late medieval period and attributed the bog finding to be the commonly assumed burial of a criminal most likely given the presence of a head wound. Given the attitudes towards various civilizations and burial practices in the common thought of Gjessing’s era , his guesses are not surprising.

The find was placed at the University of Bergan for preservation. Around 2007 a graduate student and the Lofot Viking Museum began negotiating for access so that Ma student in archaeology, Dan Halvard Lovlid, University of Bergan could do a complete study including a re-creation of the garments using experimental archaeology. Re-creation of the garments began in 2008.

Dating work:

Science is imperfect and a best guess will likely be disproved so dating the find has been a journey of constant discovery. The Tromso Museum’s first guess was a 17th or 18th century folk costume. Gjessing dated the find to late medieval period. Still later investigations yielded completely different conclusions.

“ Per Holck, who dated the bones and blanket to 1000-1210 CE, radio carbon dating dated the bones earlier to the clothing (Holck 1988: 114). In 1998, Nockert and Possnert took new samples and concluded textiles of the find dated from 995 to 1029 CE (Nockert and Possnert 2002: 60-1). A third examination, by AMS dating (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Radiocarbon Dating), organised by Løvlid (2009: 147-152), dated the find from 1050 to 1090 CE, or, the late 11th century.”

So after an evolution of dating procedures since the find in 1936, our latest dating process places the Skjoldehamn find at 1050-1090 ce .. late 11th century Norway. The garments were extremely well made, colorful, and of high value based on these two observations. The body was not entirely preserved and that which was left did not yield many clues. DNA work done in 1999 yielded neither a y-chromosome nor any genetic markers indicating Saami ethnicity. The conclusions were that the body was likely a norse woman with 20-30% chance of being Saami. (Maria Arvidsson and Anders Gotherstrom). Gotherstrom in more recent years discussed with Lovlid (during the process of researching his master’s thesis), that advances in DNA anaylsis could indicate that the lack of a y-chromosome or lack of Saami genetic markers could be because of DNA deterioration. So… no conclusions via DNA anaylsis. There is some thought that due to the fragile and delicate bone structure the body could be that of a male of female Saami or a Norse woman.

Other clues as to ethnicity may be found in the Saami like moccasins found, the manner of the burial including the reindeer skin, (although it was not dissimilar from ‘pagan’ Norse who likely had little contact with Europe at the time). There is no description I have read of the wood knife handle found so I can’t comment on that. Lots of individuals in that time period had knives… I have several in this time.

There are lengthy discussions of the likelyhood that this is a Saami find by simply looking at an evolution and comparison of clothing between then and now and other things, but I’d like to wander over to the weaving of the band on the wrist since that is what brought me here to begin with!

Skjoldehamn Sleeve cuff

Here is some information from a Norweigan lecture on the garment re-creation project:

“Dan Halvard Lovlid has been responsible for the archaeological expertise of the project. A significant part of the project was that the empirical studies of the suit were combined with textile expertise. Karin Sander has participated throughout the process of reconstruction. Tone Johansen (dyeing) and Inger Lepsoe (weaving techniques) contributed to parts of the reconstruction.” “The Skjoldehamn costume, with Saami and Norse elements, is well suited to discussing whether the Halogalend people were


So clearly the Halogalend people need to be looked at and I wonder if there is a cross over between the Saami and the Norse here. Keep in mind that I am entirely unstudied in this area. There is so much to learn!

I do not have Mr Lovlid’s thesis and that would likely answer some questions for me.. for instance HOW did he arrive at his conclusions for re-creating the fabrics and bands for the garments. We know he used a rigid heddle for re-producing the bands.

Skjoldehamn cuff Reproduction

Re-Created Sleeve with Band

Why is this critical? Well, both cultures wove on a warp weighted looms. To my knowledge the Norse were tablet weavers and the Saami did a great deal of rigid heddle weaving (and to my knowledge the Saami did not use tablets to weave with… but don’t quote me). I need to do a great deal more research. So if we determine that the original band was rigid heddle woven we can place one more nail that this is Saami work.

Since I don’t have an original report on the band construction I will rely on the report from a hand-out published from a class at the Historical re-enactment event, Pennsic, held once a year in the USA in Pennsylvannia.

Skjoldehamn Sleeve cuff

Extant Sleeve with woven band

Woven Band Observations:

Woven Band observations by Baroness Gwynnyd  (she did not list her real name) from her Pennsic Lecture:

“The band is a simple tabby weave. It is impossible to tell what weaving method was used to make the braid. It could have done on a rigid heddle loom or on cards using only two holes.”

“Looking at a Close up of the wrist (notice asymmetrical stripes on the band) Thread count of stripes (from the top): Brownish (5), gold (3), gold (3), brownish (10), green (8), and brownish (8).”

My own observation is from the frayed end of the band on one side of the wrist. I believe it is a Z ply, which would indicate the yarn is S-spun. This is from a very enlarged not completely focused photo and a bad angle and may be incorrect… please do not rely on this as solid information. I agree with her assessment that it is tabby or plain weave and that it could have been done via rigid heddle or on cards/tablets.

This last assessment is the problem. It does not help us in determining if it is Saami woven or Norse woven. The pattern could have been done by either likewise the color palatte for dyes existed for both and were used by both.

Now a microscopic exam CAN be done and has been done on other bands notably at the National Museum in Denmark. This exam can determine whether or not a band is tablet woven or rigid heddle woven. Some bands cannot be determined without it. This would be facilitated by the fact that there is a frayed edge so the turns and movement of the warp threads could be followed/observed more easily with no damage to the band. This exam may have been done. I do not know. Given that I haven’t read Mr Lovlid’s thesis, Baroness Gwynnyd did not comment on her handout, Mr Lovlid’s own level of textile understanding at that time he did his research, and what may or may not have been available or allowed in terms of examination of the actual garments by the University of Bergan; I do not know if Lovlid was able to do an in depth microscopic study of the bands with this find. Really, only someone specializing in band weaving in the field could do this exam conclusively.  Understanding how woven threads move in a given woven structure type is not straight forward in band weaving. The University of Bergan would have to have the specialized tool on site or they would have to allow the garment to be moved.. and that would perhaps not be a good idea. More to be done… Research is always a work in progress.

What we can also look at is the band pattern. In his 2010 publication Mr Lovlid compares the pattern of the extant bands to that of slightly more modern Lule Saami (southern Saami) patterns and they are very similar. I think of Norse designs as more geometrically involved, but am unstudied in this specific geographic area and time period.

Mr Lovlid does a great deal of work in his paper, ‘Skjoldehamn Find in Light of New Knowledge’, , to explain his rationale as to why this find is likely Saami and quite frankly, he is probably correct. Gjessing’s justifications that this is not Saami may have been influenced by the prejudice of the time as well as the great desire for this find to be Norse. It would have been the first in Norway in 1936 and of great import. Of course that is conjecture on my part.

A miscellany of conclusions:

I’ve approached this find more from an interest in how this band was constructed, but there is so much that goes into figuring things out. A definite on the ethnicity could conclusively indicate the most likely band construction method. We aren’t conclusive, but I feel we are very close.  I’d like to find out about any intensive textile exams that were done.

The answer to all three of my initial questions remain unanswered. We do not know the gender of the individual. The ethnicity is uncertain (although I am betting on Saami). I wonder about the Norse/Saami/ Halogalend connections. Lastly, the method of creating the band is uncertain. However, if we lean towards Saami it follows that we must then lean towards a rigid heddle methodology.

That’s my 2 pence on the subject. Hope it spurs folks to further research, questions, and development!  There are rarely definitive answers and there are always more questions to ask.

By Ercil Howard-Wroth Jan. 2015 – permission granted to copy and use for educational purposes only (not publication)  provided credit is given to all sources.

Some Cursory Sources for Research:

(not in order – not alphabetized.. just listed) Translation of Dan Halvard Lovlid 2010 publication , pdf file (NOT his Master’s thesis) Source for Dan Hlavard Lovlid publications (one is not translated) Image of original Sleeve Re-created Sleeve by Dan Halvard Lovlid Baroness Gwynnyd,

Thesis: ‘Nye tanker om Skjoldehamnfunnet’ by Dan Halvard Lovlid, Masteroppgav I arkeologi Instittutt for AHKR Universitetet I Bergen, Hosten 2009. (I am unable to find a working link for this Thesis).


2 responses to “Skjoldehamn Arm Cuff Band and Other Related Miscellany

  1. What a great find. I love the band and the embroidered braid looking edge finish. In the quote from Baroness Gwynnyd there seems to be missing # of green warps between the two sections of gold warps.

More Fiber, Better! Reply here:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s