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18 September 2014
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Viking Colonists: Joining the Community

A Viking brooch

Sketch of Viking woman
Two brooches attach the straps of a Viking woman's pinafore 
One of these everyday objects - and something that is found wherever the Vikings settled - is the oval brooch. This was a favourite item of jewellery in Scandinavia, and it is so standardised in design that it is instantly recognisable. This makes it very useful to the archaeologist as an indicator of Viking activities.

It turns up in Norway, Denmark, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland and even as far away as Iceland and Russia. About 10-12cm long, the oval brooch was mass-produced in hundreds in workshops throughout Scandinavia during the ninth and tenth centuries. It was cast in bronze (copper alloy) in a two-piece clay mould, and the decoration was often quite elaborate, with interlaced designs and sometimes settings for projecting bosses of amber or glass.

Female dress was very conservative and the equivalent of a folk-costume was worn for 200 years, not just in the homelands but everywhere that the Vikings settled - from Ireland in the west to Russia in the east. It consisted of a pinafore of wool or linen, which was worn over a long and sometimes pleated linen shift.

' ... the textiles have normally rotted away, but the two oval brooches will still be in place above the ribcage.'

The pinafore had shoulder straps that were fastened by a pair of oval brooches, one below each shoulder. Wealthy women might have a string of brightly coloured beads linking the two brooches across the chest. When pagan female graves are excavated, the textiles have normally rotted away, but the two oval brooches will still be in place above the ribcage. We assume such burials to be those of Scandinavian women who came as colonists, but of course such brooches could equally well have been worn by local women married to Viking warriors.

Published: 2004-09-11

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