Date of this Version
Published in Silk Roads, Other Roads: Textile Society of America 8th Biennial Symposium, Sept. 26–28, 2002, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.
On the Swedish Island of Bjorko, that today lies in Lake Malaren, is the Viking Age (eighth-tenth century) town of Birka. Between 1871 and 1895 Hjalmar Stolpe excavated approximately 1100 graves in the vast grave-fields lying outside the walls of this town. Stolpe's excavations provided not only one of the richest quarries for the archaeological interpretation of the Viking Age but revealed the diversity of the approximately 600-900 inhabitants who lived in this international trading town. Among these approximately 1100 graves, were a group of male graves that contained a various array of splendid silk textiles, embroideries and trimmings in gold and silver, bronze and lead buttons, bronze belt mounts, and gold and silver brocaded tabletwoven bands. The confusion surrounding the bulk of these extant textiles and their accessories is their possible Near and Far Eastern provenance. Because of these exotic finds, Birka is known as the Silk Road of the North. My most recent research has been focused on the brocaded tabletwoven bands from the male graves. An examination of these tabletwoven bands and their comparison to other Scandinavian and Western brocaded bands will be the purpose of this paper.
I will begin with some cursory background information on the known trade and travel of the Eastern Vikings; that is, those Vikings living in Sweden and Russia who were known as the Rus'. This will help to explain the wide variety of possibilities for the provenance of these items. I will then introduce the tablet woven bands, explore their unique materials, and finally, compare them to other extant bands through warp threads, ground weft threads, metallic brocade weft threads, and motifs in an effort to discover their possible provenance. I have recently examined the majority of the brocaded tablet woven bands from both male and female graves that are now conserved at the Statens Historiska Museum in Stockholm. This examination confirmed materials and patterns. I have yet to compare the quality of the weave structures between Groups I and II.