The Secret of the Threads: The Skjoldehamn costume

This ancient costume, discovered in marsh on the island of Andøya, reveals a fascinating glimpse of life during the transition from the Viking Age to the Middle Ages. With their mystical roots and cultural connections, it challenge us to connect the past, and lift the veil on stories of a time centuries ago.

The 6th of February is the Sami national day and is the official flag day in Norway. There are many events and symbols associated with the day. The day is commemorated in memory of the first Sami national convention held in the Methodist Church in Trondheim in 1917. This was the first time that the Sami had gathered to work for common Sami causes across nation-state borders. The day was first celebrated in 1993.
The Sami constituted a nomadic culture with the main focus on hunting and gathering resources, and they had their settlements in northern parts of Scandinavia. In Norway, they mainly found Sami living in the region known as Finnmork. In “Ottar’s Account”, which is the only written source from the Viking Age outside runic inscriptions, Ottar says that the Sami paid tribute to Viking chieftains.
This tribute consisted of whale bones, bird feathers, animal fur and ship ropes. In their trading voyages, the Vikings brought with them a variety of goods such as stockfish, down, fur and other marine resources. Their destinations included places such as Ribe, Hedeby and Jorvik, where the Vikings traded for luxury and expensive goods such as gold, glass, spices and fine fabrics.

The Skjoldehamn costume

The costume was discovered as a complete set of clothing from the early Middle Ages. The discovery was made in a marsh on Andøya in 1936 and paints a vivid picture of life during the early Middle Ages at the very end of the Viking Age. The costume bears a clear resemblance to both Norse and Sami clothing styles, which has made it difficult to determine the origin of the person who wore it.

The ensemble is made with meticulous care and consists of a long overdress or tunic, an inner dress or tunic, trousers, fabric stockings, a hood, belt and a pair of shoes, even if only the soles of the shoes have survived. All in a style that suggests a mix of cultural influences. Who was the bearer? A Norse trader, a wandering Sami, or maybe someone else entirely?
Evidence may point to the body belonging to a Sami. The skeletal remains found along with the clothing belong to a person of around 40 years old, with a height of about 1.6 meters. Gender has not been definitively determined at this time and is yet another layer in this archaeological riddle.
A blanket of a type strongly associated with Norse weaving methods was also discovered along with the body. While this could have been obtained through trade, the same Norse features can also be seen on the rest of the suit, such as the construction of the fabric and the cut of the tunic. The find and the style of the costume suggest that the deceased may have been a member of the Sea Sami culture, but not entirely certain. The clothes are richly decorated and have considerable use of silver, indicating that whoever wore them was at least somewhat wealthy.
One thing is certain: The story of the Skjoldehamn costume is far from finished, and provides a titillating insight into the lives of those who walked the earth centuries ago. They leave only traces of their existence, such as the Skjoldehamn costume, found in a murky Scandinavian marsh, on an island far north in Norway.

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