Women’s Head-coverings in North-Western Europe in the Viking Age

Brígiða Vadesbana (Brenda Gerritsma) Feb 1, 2008 Contact: thepassingstranger@hotmail.com


Table of Contents
Introduction..........................................................................................................................3 Head Coverings - Styles & Forms.......................................................................................3 Veils and Scarves.............................................................................................................3 Headbands......................................................................................................................11 Caps................................................................................................................................16 Hairnets..........................................................................................................................21 Head Coverings – Cultural Traditions...............................................................................22 Viking Dublin................................................................................................................22 Anglo-Saxon..................................................................................................................23 Kents..............................................................................................................................25 Scandinavians................................................................................................................26 Franks.............................................................................................................................27 Head Coverings – Fabrics & Dyes ...................................................................................27 Wool...............................................................................................................................27 Silk.................................................................................................................................28 Linen..............................................................................................................................30 Dyes...............................................................................................................................30 Conclusion.........................................................................................................................33 Bibliography......................................................................................................................34


Textiles in north-western Europe often suffer from soil conditions which are not conducive to preservation, and this is particularly true of the more fragile fabrics commonly used in head-coverings. Improvements in technology and awareness within the archaeological community have greatly expanded our knowledge and understanding of costume history in recent decades, however. More and more finds of textiles fragments and impressions left in various contexts are being preserved and analysed and new analyses of old finds are showing us a much broader picture of Early Medieval textile traditions. I present here an overview of female forms of headdress in Ireland, Britain, Scandinavia and western continental Europe in the Viking Age and the historical traditions they come from, organized both by style of headwear and by culture. Included is some information about the textiles themselves, headdress construction where available to me, and the dyes, which were used to colour them. Sadly I was unable to include eastern European traditions in this paper, due to a lack of sources currently available to me. Hopefully they may be added at some future date.

Head Coverings - Styles & Forms
Veils and Scarves
There is little evidence of women’s dress in the Viking Age in Ireland. A 13th century stone carving at Kells Priory (Kilkenny County) shows a woman wearing a short folded head-cloth with a band over it. Older, more worn stone carvings show women with either hair dressed to ear or shoulder length, or short head dresses. But archaeological evidence comes only from Viking controlled Dublin, though it is uncertain whether the evidence indicates Scandinavian fashion or Irish influence. 1


Heckett, 2003 pg 53


There is evidence of short narrow veils or scarves being worn in Dublin. A length of silk, dyed purple with lichen, and measuring a minimum of 870 mm long and 240 mm wide was found.2 The piece still has both selvedges, indicating the fabric was woven to that width. The ends are hemmed so it is difficult to determine if it was cut from a longer piece or not. The veil is not wide enough to cover the back of the head, and may have been secured with a band or pinned to a cap, band or plait of hair, as it is too short to drape over the head and wrap securely around the neck. The piece is broken however, and may have been longer. If 870 mm were approximately the original length, the veil would hang to slightly below the shoulders when worn centred on the head.

Dublin style Wool Scarf (long-rolled hems)

The other pieces are much shorter though of a similar width. These scarves were rarely stitched, but woven to width and the warp ends gathered and plied into decorative tassels. Both silk and wool scarves have been found, in most cases of an open-weave, with fine threads and show some traces of dyes, in particular indigotin (likely from woad) and

Heckett, 2003 pg 4


madder. Draped over the head they would have been open at the back and likely would have had to be worn secured either with a headband of some sort, or pinned to the hair or a hat. 3 The lightness of this cloth makes it unlikely that it could have been used for much else but head-coverings, as it would not tolerate much stress.4 The wool fabrics were all of good quality, long staple fleeces, combed and Z-spun firmly. The average thread had a diameter of 0.2 mm, and fairly high thread count at 16 warp ends per cm, and 13 weft threads. The tabby weave was open with visible space between threads and was not fulled. This fabric is not seen elsewhere in Europe, though some gauze-like fabric was found at Haithabu (Denmark), some of which might have been wool, similarly woven with a slightly lower thread count. No information is available on thread diameter, so it is difficult to determine if the fabric was as light as the Dublin pieces. 5

Dublin style Silk Scarf (short-no tassels)

The silks are all tabby woven as well, though of different qualities. Some of the pieces are also woven of fine, Z-spun thread in both sets, though the threads are slightly finer

3 4

ibid, pg 4 ibid, pg 6 5 Heckett, 2003 pg 89-90


than the wool at 0.09-0.14 mm, and have a higher thread count, particularly in the warp, at 30-40 threads per cm, and 16-26 in the weft. 6 Other silk pieces have Z-spun warp ranging from 0.05 to 0.13 mm in diameter, and untwisted weft of 0.45 to 1.0 mm. These are a denser cloth but still too light to have been suitable for garments other than headwear. They have a thread count of 17-27 per cm in the warp and 26-33 in the weft. There are also fragments of a type of silk cloth with untwisted threads ranging from 0.11-0.12 mm in the warp and 0.45-0.5 mm in the weft, but not much else is able to be determined from them. These silk fabrics are well known in other parts of Europe, and have been found all over England and Scandinavia. 7 Among Anglo-Saxons veils are more securely assigned a place. It is relatively common to find lightweight linen tabby woven cloth (preserved or cloth impressions) lying in front of brooches worn on the shoulders and chest of buried individuals. These fabrics range from gauzy to close-woven but are generally of finer fabrics than those found on other parts of the body. The fabrics appear to lie in loose folds, or, in the case of the denser fabrics, in gathers and pleats, sometimes sewn in place.8 The majority of these fabrics were bleached white linen, though examples of net-like wool fabrics, including one dyed a deep blue black have been found. In one grave where a brooch has fallen beside the head and preserved part of the upper portion of the veil, the veil appears to be fine red tabby, edged with a patterned tablet woven band, 9 mm wide, and running across the temple and over the ear, suggesting some form of tie to secure the veil about the head. In several mid 6th - 7th century graves there are lightweight linen fabrics bordered in tablet weave that are clearly worn over other garments. This border may have only been on the front edge in some cases, or may have been sewn on only across the forehead, after which they detached from the veil to form a tie. 9 A 7th century

6 7

ibid, pg 91 ibid, pg 93-4 8 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 157 9 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 157-8


complaint against nuns by Saint Aldhelm mentions veils held in place with ‘ribbons’ sewn to them. 10

Early to Mid-Saxon Veil with attached band

Small closed rings, annular brooches, and metal clips shaped like modern staples begin appearing near the ears in graves at this time. The rings have sometimes been interpreted as earrings, but as the rings are permanently closed it is more likely that these, and the clips and brooches were part of the veiling arrangement. They may have been a way of securing tablet woven bands to the veil or a coif underneath, or of strengthening the point at which a band edging the veil in front detached from the veil to form ties.11 Single pins are also found at the jaw, forehead and under skulls. These metal objects have also been interpreted as possibly securing a burial shroud across the face of the deceased.12 A long straight pin appears to have been used to secure the veil in the neck area. These pins, however, rarely appear in graves on women under the age of approximately 17. This
10 11

Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 135 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 159 12 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 157


may indicate a specific change in status of a female at this age, most likely marriage. This is in contrast to when the peplos dresses generally began being worn; the approximate age at which a female is capable of bearing a child. The fabrics interpreted as veils are also not found on women under the age of 16. 13 In the 5th and early 6th century short white linen veils were worn. Gauzy black veils and at least one red one are found in Yorkshire. These veils hung around only the shoulders and upper chest, with the longest veil found only reaching to just above the elbows.14 This is evident from the fact that metal artefacts worn lower on the body preserve other materials, but the veil material is only preserved around the head and shoulders. These began lengthening in the 6th and 7th centuries and a wider range of fabrics began being used. Veils are found to the hips and even the thighs, and the pleats seen in some of the heavier early veils had become tight, close pleats. Coloured veils seem more common, and according to literary evidence, may even have been so long as to fall to the ankles.15 Veils also become more common among girls in the 7th century, probably due to the influence of Christian morality. 16 By the 7th century veils appear to have become a medium for displaying status and fashion sense, with veil options including plain, or ornamented with patterned braid (and possibly beads), white or coloured, smooth or pleated, and worn with or without a headband and/or coif. However they were worn, it would seem that the veils did not entirely cover the hair, as Aldhelm’s complaint makes mention of curled hair visible at the forehead and temples. 17 Black veils appear to have been a sign of religious status. In the 7th century, Aldhelm complains of nuns replacing their black or dark grey veils with white or coloured veils,

13 14

Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 178, 242 ibid, pg 158, 161-2 15 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 159-65 16 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 157 17 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 165-7, Owen-Crocker, 2004. pg 135, 157-8


and in Byzantine art Mary is often depicted wearing a black veil over a white coif, whereas secular, court ladies are more often portrayed in white or patterned veils. 18 In the 10th and 11th centuries most art depicts women wearing voluminous veils, covering the head and neck and hiding the hair. This appears to have been worn by all women except very young girls. One possible variation of this head covering is a large rectangular veil, draped loosely about the head and pinned at one end to the head on the opposite side. This is not a practical style for physical labour, and may be more common among the upper classes that dominate in artistic depictions. Another possibility for a closer fitting veil is a rectangle or oval with a hole cut out near one long edge for the face to emerge from. Or the veil may be worn tucked into the neck of the gown underneath rather than loose about the shoulders.19 Most of these veils are depicted as being unornamented though there are a few which may have been pattern-woven silk.20

Late Saxon Veil with headband

18 19

Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 165 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 219-20 20 ibid, pg 158, 223


Pins are never shown in depictions, but are common finds. They are usually small, round-headed pins, which could have been discreetly used to hold the veil in place.21 Early in the period, the fashions in Kent were a bit different than other parts of England, due most likely to being settled by the Jutes and Frisians rather than the Angles or Saxons. In the 6th century Jutish fashions were replaced with Merovingian. 22 Kentish women almost certainly wore veils. Veils were fashionable among Merovingian women, likely an import from Byzantine styles. One veil falling to the hip appears to have been made from brocaded fabric. The ground fabric has disappeared, so it’s unclear what the veil was made of. These veils likely framed the face more closely than the Continental fashion, however, as there is evidence that brooches were used to fasten them under the chin, and Kentish women were generally not found to be wearing the elaborate earrings popular in the Frankish courts.23 Many veils found in Kent edged with gold thread are from this period. While some of the gold-brocaded bands have been interpreted as headbands, and the location of some of these bands support this, some of the bands also appear to fall alongside the face and are quite possibly veil edgings.24 Among the Frankish courts, elaborate and lengthy veils were fashionable. The burial at Arnegunde contains a veil of red silk satin, pinned at the temples, which hung to the waist. Another burial at Cologne Cathedral, presumed to be of a princess, contained gold threads by the feet, which have been interpreted as the edges of a veil. Calf-length veils were popular in the Byzantine Empire with whom the Franks had many close ties. 25 Germanic women are sometimes portrayed in Roman sculpture as wearing long loose veils sometimes secured by headbands.26

21 22

ibid, pg 225-6 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 190-1 23 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 100-1 24 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 158 25 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 79, 100 26 ibid, pg 79

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The evidence for veils in Scandinavia is a bit scarcer, at least in the archaeological record. At Birka, several metal-brocaded bands have been found with fragments of silk cloth preserved beneath them, suggesting the possibility that the bands had been worn over a veil or a cap. Gauze-like cloth has been found at Danish Haithabu (Hedeby) dating to the 9th century, it may be wool and the open-weave of the cloth is similar to what was found in Dublin, dating from the 10th and 11th century. Some more closely woven wool fabric at Kaupang in Norway may also be related.27 The Oseberg Queen is also said to have been found with evidence of a veil, possibly soumak woven, however I have as yet not been able to access the recent research released on the textiles found in the Oseberg burial. There is a 10th century burial at Horning in Denmark, where fragments of a loosely woven tabby cloth, dyed blue, have been identified as a veil with a tablet woven edging falling on both sides to the knees. This burial of a high-ranking lady is believed to reflect Frankish fashion, which seemed to be popular among the elite in Denmark at the time. 28 The only artistic depiction I have seen record of is the Lewis chessmen, which were found in Scotland, but appear Norse in style. The Queens in the set are depicted wearing short veils under their crowns.29

Headbands of silk and wool have been found in Dublin. Two longer silk ones measure 580 mm long and between 80-100 mm wide. One is still knotted, though the loop is broken, but the broken ends appear to fit together. The measurement of the loop would be about 390 mm. A further two bands are made of shorter lengths knotted together; one two-piece band measuring 390 mm, and a three-piece band measuring 480 mm. Heckett determined these would be sufficient to wear round the head. 30
27 28

Heckett, 2003 pg 8, 90 Krag, 2005 pg 29-31 29 Heckett, 2003 pg 7 30 Heckett, 2003 pg 4-5*

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Shorter pieces in wool and silk measure approximately 380 mm as well. At least two of the wool bands appearing to be a complete loom-pieces, as warp loops are present at one end of one, with the other hemmed, and the other piece appears to have the fringes tucked into hems at both ends. It is impossible to tell if the silks are also loom-pieces as the ends are still stitched down. One of the silk bands was found with a knot of flossy silk yarn, and the ends of the band were drawn in as though the yarn may have been sewn to the ends to allow the band to be tied around the head. One of the wool bands also shows signs of similar bunching at one end. 31 Thin gold bands with Scandinavian associations, perforated at the ends to allow for a tie to be threaded through have also been found in Dublin. These may have been used to hold scarves and veils in place, as could gold and silver brocaded tablet woven bands found in Dublin. Such bands have a long history in Europe of being worn with or without other head-coverings. The undecorated wool and silk bands of loom woven cloth may be a lower status version of these tablet woven bands. 32 There are few depictions in art of Anglo-Saxon women wearing headbands but written sources indicate they were a typical garment of married women, so much so that a form of sign language developed for use by monks who had vowed silence indicated a headband or bindan as a sign for women. The word binde in Anglo-Saxon refers to a fillet and appears most likely to be a gold or silver (or both) brocaded band. It is possible it may also have referred to bands which were not brocaded with metal, but which have disappeared from the archaeological record. 33 A similar word, bænde, refers to a solid metal band. 34 The brocaded bands appeared to have been brocaded only on the front and
* I am enormously confused by this conclusion. All evidence I have seen seems to indicate the average height of people in this period is not much smaller than average height now. I am slightly shorter than current average size and there is no way in which to wear a band that short securely around my head. All measurements of my head require over 500 mm, even if pinned to something else. Since there seems to be clear evidence these were worn on the head, I theorize these may have actually been worn as binding for the hair, rather than worn around the head itself. 31 ibid, pg 5-6 32 ibid, pg 7-8 33 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 82 34 ibid, pg 225

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possibly on the ends of longer ties, with the hair and veil covering the undecorated parts, though the largest example had brocading on 250 to 340 mm, which would stretch from temple to temple or even from behind one ear to behind the other. 35

Metal-brocaded Head-band common across Northern Europe

There is one illustration (showing the daughters of Ruel) that shows the band being worn over veils, and another illustration of Emma, King Cnut’s wife wearing a stiffened band with long, possibly jewelled, embroidered or brocaded, ties under her veil. 36 Patterned tablet woven bands have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves. While there is some evidence that these may have been veil edgings in some graves, being found falling alongside the face, in other graves the bands appear to cross the forehead and over the ears, suggesting they were headbands. They may have been sewn to the veil around the face and then left loose for the rest of their length, allowing them to be used as ties to bind the veil. Small closed rings, brooches and metal clips similar to modern staples appear around the temples and ears, which would reinforce the point at which the band

35 36

ibid, pg 96-7 Heckett, 2003 pg 6-7, Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 224

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separates from the veil. 37 These bands would have been rich items, as they were one of the most commonly bequeathed garment in women’s wills. 38 In Kent these headbands commonly were gold brocaded. At least ten burials have gold strips on or near the head. There are several other burials that also contain the same type of gold strips used for brocading, but the position of the strips was not recorded, and it is therefore impossible to say for certain they were also headbands. These headbands were probably tablet woven and likely of silk, as the Continental examples of these types of headbands were. The gold brocading was made of gold foil cut into narrow strips, which were brocaded into the bands, then flattened and burnished to look like a solid gold pattern. If brocaded onto red silk they would have looked remarkably similar to the gold and gilded jewellery inlaid with garnets or red glass that was being imported from among the Franks. 39 The Kentish bands were probably derived from the fashions of the Franks, among whom some of the earliest examples of these bands appeared (5th and early 6th century), where they were referred to as vitta. They were popular in the later 6th and 7th centuries. A particularly elaborate example comes from a grave in Cologne Cathedral, with the gold brocaded in a soumak weave, and a gold and garnet ornament set on the brow. The bands were so notable, they appear frequently in Frankish literature. They seem to be especially associated with brides, but married women appear to have continued wearing them, at least on ceremonial occasions. Roman sculpture depicts women with loose veils draped over their heads, and secured by headbands. The technique of brocading gold was likely learned from the earlier Gallo-Romans, who edged their garments with it, but the fashion for fillets was Byzantine. 40 According to literary sources, narrow brocaded fillets were worn by both men and women in Scandinavia, especially among middle class women and warriors. At Birka, 20 male graves, and 15 female graves have the distinctive gold and silver strips on tablet
37 38

Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 158-59 ibid, pg 224 39 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 96 40 ibid, pg 97, 79

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woven bands. Silver is more common than gold in Scandinavia, both in the relative numbers of gold and silver brocaded bands worn in Scandinavian, and in comparison to other areas of Northern Europe.41 Some of the bands have fragments of silk lying under them, suggesting the band was worn with a cap or veil (there’s evidence of stitching some of the fragments). Viking Art, however often depicts women bareheaded, with their hair knotted, and sometimes confined with a headband to keep it in place.

This is shown on the Oseberg cart and

the Kinsta figure, both of which appear to have a band, not across the forehead, but running along the hairline. In some graves it would appear it could also have been worn only around the back of the head. 43

Metal Brocaded Headband worn in different positions

The scarf-like headband, however, was only worn by women. This may have been the head covering referred to in sagas as sveigr, a garment worn by married freewomen. The word is related to another Scandinavian word meaning “to bend or bow”, suggesting to was some kind of cloth twisted around the head. In one saga a man taunts another by claiming the bandage the second man is wearing around his head and covering his eye looks like a woman’s head-cloth. This would clearly suggest that the narrow brocaded

41 42

Heckett, 2003 pg 7-8 ibid, pg 7-8, 53 43 Ewing, 2006 pg 55

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fillet is not what is meant here. 44 It may be similar to the short, narrow scarves found in Dublin.

Several wool and silk caps have been found in Dublin, the most common form being about 160 mm wide and 480 mm long (unfolded). The front edge is usually rolled, or folded and sewn; the bottom edge double folded and hemmed (average fold 5 mm/5 mm on the wool caps, and 2-3 mm in the silk caps); and the back over-sewn with the selvedge edge turned in 2-25 mm. A curved line of running stitch shaped the peak of the hat to the skull, and the peak is left revealed. The over-sewing on the back often was not continued past the beginning of the curved line of stitching, and in some cases the back was not stitched together at all, the back edges being rolled and stitched like the front. Ties were sewn to the front bottom corners of the cap. None have been found still attached, but silk ribbons and braids have been found, which may have been used for ties, and the fronts of the caps show signs of stress consistent with having been pulled by ties. 45

Dublin Wool Caps - 1. closed back, 2. open back (wrong fabric)

44 45

ibid, pg 52-3 Heckett, 2003 pg 44

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It is unclear whether the wool caps were loom-pieces as the bottom edged are hemmed, but most had selvedges on both sides so were woven to the finished width, likely specifically for making caps with. The width is slightly narrower than that of the wool scarves. 46 The silk caps have only one selvedge or none extant, suggesting these were cut down from wider cloth to match the parameters of the wool caps. 47 The sewing on the wool caps was on average 2-4 stitches per cm and about 1-4 mm long, on the silk it was 3-6 stitches per cm and 1-2 mm long per stitch. In most cases the fibre used to stitch the cap was the same as the cap was made of. The wool sewing thread was Z-spun and S-plied with two strands, and around 1 mm in diameter. The colours ranged from reddish-brown to black, with black predominant. The silk sewing thread was used in both single and double strands (S-plied) with diameters ranging from 0.4-1 mm and appeared golden to dark brown in colour (these colours may be the result of the soil in which they were found). All extant beginnings of a line of stitching had knots to secure the end, with no instances of taking several stitches in place as later became common. The variations in technique and skill suggest that the pieces were made on an individual basis as needed or wanted, rather than being commercially produced by a specialist. 48 The fact that these caps have been found in more than one location in Dublin suggests that the caps may have been in general use in the community. It is not completely certain who wore these caps but, based on comparable garments in other cultures, experts believe it is more likely to be women and children. The range of sizes and the placement of ties on some of the caps suggest they were worn by a wide range of ages. The veil-like material is not very sturdy and may have been originally been meant to be pinned to dressed hair or loosely tied as tying them more firmly would cause the fabric to pull and tear quickly. They may have been worn under the kinds of veils seen in Anglo-Saxon and Byzantine art. While such under-caps in those cultures would likely be made of linen, which was readily available and comfortable, there’s no reason wool and silk could not have been used the same way. 49
46 47

ibid, pg 44 ibid, pg 46 48 ibid, pg 102-4 49 Heckett, 2003 pg 47-9

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Several show signs of repair; darning, patches, and ties replaced. One cap has a patch sewn on the inside over one ear. This is an odd position, as it has left a hole visible on the outside. Possibly this hole was created after the patch had been applied, and the patch had been intended to reinforce a thin area that had not worn through yet. Or perhaps it was worn only as a nightcap or under another covering so comfort on the ear was more important than appearance. 50 These sometimes extensive repairs suggest that these caps had a complex and lengthy pattern of use, possibly as status symbols worn alone or with a fillet when first made, and gradually being put to more general use as they became worn, or handed down to younger family members, servants, or such. 51 There are no extant caps or hairnets found among the Anglo-Saxons, however, some kind of coif does seem likely. Coifs and caps of various sorts have a long history in Northern Europe and both the veil of the nun’s habit (with its roots in early medieval dress) and the Moslem veil are typically worn with a cap and/or headband to hold the hair securely and provide a base for the veil. 52

Pillbox Hat
50 51

ibid, pg 46-7 ibid, pg 49 52 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 160, 165

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The Anglo-Saxon language has three terms for kinds of hats, hæt (hat), cuffie (loose fitting hood or scarf) and scyfel (hat or cap with some form of projection). 53 A cuffie is related to the modern word coif, but could also be related to the word cufle, a monk’s cowl, suggesting the cuffie was shaped more like a hood. There is also the possibility of some kind of round hat, perhaps in a pillbox style. The 6th century pot lid from Spong Hill is often interpreted as piled up hair, but may be hair confined in a pillbox style hat. Some Frankish and Germanic art from the 9th and 11th centuries also depict such a hat, 54 and one has been found in the Merovingian or Carolingian level at Raskwerd, the Netherlands. 55 Such hats appear in the archaeological record in Greenland as well, though they are dated past the scope of this paper. 56 A further possibility is some form of hat with a projection of some sort that shades the face, which may be what is meant by the scyfel. Scyfel is a cognate of the Icelandic skupla or skypill, which refers to a women’s hood, which hides or shades her face. Such a hat is depicted in the 11th century English Harley Psalter. 57 Caps similar to the Dublin caps were found in York, London and Lincoln, Birka (Sweden), and Masku (Finland). The closest comparable ones are the ones at York (in the 10th century layer at Coppergate) and Lincoln, all of which are silk of similar weaves to the Dublin silk caps, and like them, had one selvedge edge and one cut one. The basic pattern, including the curved line shaping the peak to the head was present, though at least one York cap had the peak snipped off. The cap found at Saltergate, Lincoln was open at the back. It has been suggested that the similarities between the silks may even indicate that the fabric could have come from the same bolt, possibly sold in pieces by a travelling merchant, however variations in reinforcement of the selvedge during weaving and the fact that caps have been found in contexts ranging from the early 10th century to early 11th makes it more likely that the fabric was merely a commonly available fabric at the time, particularly in trade towns. 58
53 54

Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 81 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 221-2 55 ibid, pg 79 56 Ostergard, 2004 pg 219-20 57 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 221-2 58 Heckett, 2003 pg 49-52

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Jorvik Cap (in linen, with headband)

At Birka, the evidence is less firm. A silk fragment with evidence of stitching, is described as a small cap by Agnes Geiger, which she suggests was worn on the back of the head, and secured with a metal-brocaded band, the silver strips of which preserved the fragment. A headdress found at Masku is similar in shape and dimensions as the Dublin caps, but is made of a thicker wool twill fabric, which would have stood up around the head in a stiffer fashion. A fresco in Kiev shows the daughters of the King of Kiev in what appear to be close-fitting caps, though they appear more generously constructed than the Dublin caps.59 In the Scandinavians sagas, a type of headdress called a faldr (“to fold”) is mentioned, a good description of the Dublin and York caps and small scarves. One saga seems to suggest a woman’s faldr had a bulging appearance, as though it were stuffed with her hair, and some of the women on the Oseberg Tapestry do appear to have their hair dressed or covered in such a fashion. 60 It is possible to tie the caps in such a way as to accomplish this.

59 60

Heckett, 2003 pg 52-3 Ewing, 2006 pg 53

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A late 10th century statue from Germany shows Mary wearing what is possibly a closefitting cap, or a small wrapped headdress with a cloak closed by an elaborate eagle brooch. This gives credence to the idea that people who wear elaborate jewellery would not likely wear garments that habitually covered them up. 61 Roman sculptures from a few centuries earlier also show Germanic women wearing caps or hairnets, at least in indoor settings.
63 62

Sculptures in Rhineland show women with drawstring caps over bundled hair.

Pillbox style hats also appear in Frankish and Germanic art. The 11th century Paris Psalter shows a woman in a round hat, carrying a scarf or veil, and 9th century Carolingian illumination shows a cloth wrapped round a similar hat. In archaeological finds there was a pillbox hat found in the Netherlands in the Merovingian or Carolingian levels. 64

Hairnets are very fragile in nature and few survive in the archaeological record. Seven knotted silk hairnets were found in Dublin, and one piece of sprang. 65 There is no evidence Anglo-Saxon women wore sprang, though it was known in Britain in the Bronze Age. 66 No sprang pieces or other types of hairnets have survived in England in the Viking Age, 67 though the soils are poor for textile preservation and very little textiles from the top of heads remain unless they were resting against metal. Caps of sprang were known to be worn by Germanic women in Scandinavia and is known in Norway and Sweden in the Viking Age. 68 This may be because most sprang was probably made in linen which rarely survives in the archaeological record. 69

61 62

Heckett, 2003 pg 54 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 161-2 63 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 80 64 ibid, pg 221-2, 79 65 Heckett, 2003 pg 109 66 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 80 67 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 160 68 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 79-80 69 Ewing, 2006 pg 149

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Head Coverings – Cultural Traditions
Viking Dublin
Our knowledge of headwear in Viking controlled Dublin is primarily from the 10th and 11th centuries. Very little is known about dress in other parts of Ireland at the time. The women of Dublin do not appear to have worn veils commonly. This is not unusual, as veils known to be worn in other cultures during this period were generally relatively voluminous, and impractical for working in. Dublin was a trade town and the areas in which the Dublin caps and scarves were found were primarily populated by artisans, rarely than the wealthy elite, who might have had the leisure to wear impractical clothing. Also, the caps and scarves were found in settlement areas, discarded, rather than buried in graves, where people were commonly buried in their finest. Art in Ireland at this time shows women with their hair either dress to shoulder length, or wearing short veils or caps. It is unclear if this was a native fashion or Scandinavian influence, though the presence of similar caps in Viking controlled York and Lincoln suggests the latter. Scarves and veils were narrow and short, only about 240 mm wide, and about 600 mm long. They were woven to size, with selvedges on both sides, and warp ends, sometimes still in loops, plied and cabled into decorative fringes. They were of delicate gauze or net like fabric and were woven of both wool and silk. They could be worn a number of ways; centred on the head and hanging loose, probably pinned to the wearer’s hair or some form of cap or headband; secured with a band overtop; tied by the corners under the chin or at the nape of the neck; or gathered and tied like a headband around the forehead. Similar to the scarves are the sewn caps. They were also woven to size, though on average narrower than the scarves, being between 160 –180 mm wide where selvedges could be identified on both sides. Because the ends were sewn in it is difficult to say for

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certain that they woven to length as well, though it seems plausible. They were also shorter than the scarves, at 480 mm unfolded. A typical cap had a rolled, or folded and sewn, front edge (front edges with cord whipstitched on are also present). Doubled folds of 5-20 mm were hemmed along the bottom edge with ties sewn to the front bottom corner. The backs of the caps could be hemmed, but otherwise left unstitched, or more commonly, over-sewn with the selvedge edge turned in 2-25 mm, often continuing only to where the peak was shaped. A line of running stitch curved across the peak of the hat, shaping it to the skull, with the peak left standing. No ties have been found still attached to the caps, but silk braids and ribbons have been found in context with the caps, which may have been used. There is no sign embroidery or decorative stitching was used on the caps. Narrow bands of silk and wool were also utilized, sometimes knotted together from more than one short length. These were loom-woven bands and some of the shorter pieces may have had some kind of ties sewn to them to secure them behind the head. These bands could be a lower status version of the metal-brocaded silk tablet bands found in Dublin and across Britain and the Continent. Solid narrow metal bands with a perforation in the ends, which could have been threaded with ties, have also been found. These would have been very high status symbols. Some knotted silk hairnets and one piece of sprang have been found in Dublin as well, so hairnets are a likely form of headdress. If they were typically made of linen, they may have been more common than the archaeological record suggests.

Early in the Anglo-Saxon period in Britain women tended to wear short veils, only covering the head and shoulders. It was common for them to be pinned at the neck, though not necessarily closely. By the Viking age, these had lengthened considerably.

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The archaeological record shows many extending to the hip or thigh, but literary evidence points to the fact that some hung as far as the ankles. While bleached white linen was typical early on, and continued in use into the Viking Age, a much wider range of fabrics and styles had appeared. Veils were often plain but could be ornamented with costly braid and possibly beads. Most common were tablet woven borders, possibly only on the front edge. Some of these borders were only sewn on the veil across the forehead, and then detached to form ties to secure the veil. The point of detachment was sometimes reinforced with brooches, rings, or staple-like metal clips. Veils could also be pleated and/or worn with or without a coif or a headband (which was usually worn underneath, but could occasionally be worn over top of the veil). Veils appear to have been the exclusive province of married women in the early period, but by the Viking Age, all but the youngest of girls would have been wearing some form of head covering. By the 10th and 11th century these head coverings would cover the head and neck and conceal the hair completely, but in the earlier Viking age, literary evidence suggests hair was often visible at the forehead and temples. The later veils were also depicted as unornamented for the most part, though a few seem to be patterned silk. It should be noted, the voluminous veils of the late Viking Age are known primarily from art, as Christian beliefs discouraged the practice of interring grave goods with the dead. The veils depicted are impractical for work, but as art generally depicts royalty, wealthy patrons and saints, and what little remains in the graves is likely to be ‘Sunday Best’ this is likely to represent a high status and/or ‘special occasion’ fashion. Two possible variations of this fashion might be a large rectangle of fabric draped closely about the head and pinned with small, discreet pins at the side of the face, or a rectangle or oval with a hole cut near one long edge through which the face can emerge. One fashion that is occasionally shown is to wear the veil with the ends tucked into the neck of the gown. Likely this would have been a smaller veil.

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Headbands were a typical feature of Anglo-Saxon women’s headwear. While the most of the finds are of metal-brocaded tablet woven bands, this would have been an expensive item, and fibre-brocaded tablet bands, or non-brocaded patterned or plain bands would probably have been worn on a day-to-day basis and by lower classes. The bands often appear to be brocaded only on the front, presumably because the veil and hair would cover the rest. Some of the bands seem to have been quite long, and hang out from under the veil at the bottom. These tie ends appear to have been ornamented, at least some of the time, possibly with further brocading, embroidery or even jewelled. Solid metal bands have also been found. Coifs have not been found in Anglo-Saxon England, though textile historians do consider them likely. They were common elsewhere in North-western Europe during this period and would provide a firm base for the veil, as well as holding the hair back. The AngloSaxon language does have several words for types of hats, including a cuffie, which is often translated to mean a loose fitting hood or scarf, which would fit the description of the nearby Dublin caps and scarves. Other possibilities for Anglo-Saxon hats include a pillbox style, as possibly depicted on the 6th century Spong Hill pot lid, and in the 11th century Harley Psalter. One possible reconstruction for how these types of headdress would be worn is to tie the coif at the chin or nape of the neck, tie the wide band of cloth around the forehead, and drape the veil over top. 70 Hairnets have also not been found in this period in England, though they would not survive well in an archaeological context in English soil, and would not be visible under the veils in most artistic depictions. There is no evidence for sprang being a utilized technique at this time.



Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 165

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Veils were common among the women of Kent, and many were richly decorated with gold braid borders and gold threads running through the weave. One veil appears to have been brocaded all over with gold thread. They seem to have been worn close around the face, as pins have been found under the chin, and the elaborate earrings of the Frankish courts, from which Kentish fashion derived, do not appear. Gold brocaded bands were quite common in Kent, sometimes as fillets, and sometimes as veil borders. The gold strips, which formed the brocading, was smoothed and burnished to appear as though the designs were formed of solid pieces of gold. The bands themselves were most likely silk, and if they were done in red, would have looked much like the garnet or red glass enamelled gold jewellery that was then being imported into Kent from the Frankish territories. Shortly into the Viking age, however, the differences between Kentish fashion and that of the rest of Anglo-Saxon England had mostly disappeared.

There is little evidence for veils in the archaeological record in Scandinavia. Some silk fragments have been found under a metal-brocaded band in Sweden, suggesting the bands were worn with a veil or cap, and some gauze-like fabric similar to the Dublin caps and scarves has been found in Denmark. The Queens of the Lewis Chess Set, which may have been Norwegian work, are wearing what looks like short veils under their crowns. Brocaded fillets were routinely worn by both men and women. In Scandinavia, silver was a more commonly used metal thread than gold, unlike elsewhere. These bands are sometimes shown being worn alone in artistic depictions and in archaeology, and could be worn around the forehead, the hairline, or just the peak of the skull. Women wore another form of headband as well; based on literary evidence, it seems to have been similar to the short narrow scarves found in Dublin.

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Caps like those found in Dublin were also found in Viking settled York and Lincoln, and in London. One of the York caps has the peak trimmed off, but otherwise the hats are, for the most part, similar. A fragment of stitched cloth, found under a brocaded band at Birka, suggests this fashion existed in Scandinavia as well. Sprang hairnets were also known.

The veils of Frankish women were often depicted as very similar in style to that of Byzantine Empire, with whom the Frankish kingdoms had close ties. The veils were long and elaborate, some of the finest found being of red silk satin, or having gold threads worked in at the edges. Brocaded tablet bands were common, and as a fashion likely also derived from Byzantine styles, though the technique of metal-brocading probably came from the Gallo-Romans. Frankish gold-brocaded bands were especially elaborate, and included soumak-wrapped weave, and were so notable they often were mentioned in Frankish literature. They appear to have been especially associated with brides, but married women seem to have continued wearing them, at least on ceremonial occasions. There is some suggestion in Frankish art for coifs or caps of some sort, and hairnets and caps were known from Roman times. Some sculptures in Rhineland also show a form of drawstring cap over bundled hair. 9th and 11th century illuminations show a pillbox style hat, worn by women, and one has been found from the Merovingian or Carolingian level in the Netherlands.

Head Coverings – Fabrics & Dyes

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The wool fabric found at Dublin has some similarities to fabric found elsewhere in northern Europe; the particularly fine tabby wools are peculiar in the archaeological record to Dublin. It was all of light, open-weave tabby, averaging 16 warp threads per cm, and 13 weft threads and was not fulled. The threads were all Z-spun firmly, of long combed wool staple and the average diameter of the threads was 0.2 mm. The wider fabric was between 140-180 mm wide where both selvedges are extant, and between 380490 mm long. The bands were between 80-120 mm wide. 71 16 warp threads per cm was also typical of the narrow bands, but while one band has a similar weft count to the wider fabrics, the other has a weft count of 17-21 threads per cm. Many of the fabrics appear to have been complete loom-pieces, woven specifically not just to width, but also length, the scarves at least, having clear warp loops plied into tassels on several pieces. 72 A few of the Anglo-Saxon veils are of wool; they are described as semi-transparent netlike Z/Z spun tabbies of fine, smooth yarn. These weaves are found in England (6th-7th centuries), Germany (7th-8th centuries), and in the Viking Age, in Anglo-Scandinavian York, Hiberno-Norse Dublin, Mammen (Denmark), and Haithabu (Sweden). The Viking Age weaves are a bit finer, but generally the same technically. They were often dyed black, blue or purple. 73 As the tools for wool production from fleece to finished garment are present in all Northern Europe communities, it is likely the wool was locally produced. There is a possibility such fine cloth was produced by a specialist, and unusual wool fabrics were known to be traded widely.

The Dublin Silks were of three kinds, Z/Z tabby, Z/no twist tabby, and no twist/no twist tabby. Weaves vary from gauze-like to more solid weaves with thicker weft threads that add sheen to the fabric. Some of the pieces have both selvedges and warp loops present,
71 72

Heckett, 2003 pg 89 ibid, pg 5 73 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 68-9

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which indicates many pieces, would have been woven to size. All types seem to have reinforced selvedges with extra threads. These types of fabrics were well-known in Europe, with finds at York, Jelling, Mammen, Perth, Lund and London The no twist/no twist silks were all small fragments, and are distorted, so the density of the weave is difficult to establish. The yarn diameters were 0.11-0.12 mm in one set, and 0.45-0.5 mm in the other. The Z/Z tabby is the finest fabric, with a yarn diameter of 0.09-0.14 mm, and a thread count of 16-26/cm (warp) x 12-15/cm (weft), to 30-41/cm (warp) x 19-32/cm (weft). The weave is open and some of the pieces have a well-crimped yarn, which gives the fabric a crepe-like appearance, though the twist of the threads is light to medium. There are traces of decorative fringes on several of the pieces. The one exception to the general parameters of the fabric is the largest silk scarf, which has thicker yarn and a denser weave than the others. The Z/no twist silk is of a denser weave than the Z/Z tabbies. The yarn diameter of the warp is 0.05-0.13 mm, while the weft ranges from 0.45-1.00 mm, with a thread count of 17-20/cm x 24-27/cm to 28-33/cm-26-31/cm. This cloth is very similar to the silks used for the York, Lincoln and London caps. 74 Many of the tablet weaves are believed to be of silk, which was common on the Continent. While brocading could be done on wool or linen, only silk seems to have survived with any frequency. 75 Some silk bands from Scandinavia have replaced certain of the threads, those never appearing on the surface of the band due to the pattern of weaving, with some organic thread (linen or nettle) which has not survived. 76

74 75

Heckett, 2007 pg 91-3 Crowfoot and Hawkes, 1967 pg 53, 56 76 Knudsen, 2005 pg 36-37

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A few rare types of silks were also found. Silk taffeta was found at Birka, 77 and a satin weave was found at Arnegunde (the burial is dated 580-90 CE, before the Viking Age). 78 Silk cloth is less likely to be locally produced. While silk thread was being imported since at least the early 7th century for use in embroidery, there is no evidence of silk weaving in Europe at that time. 79

Linen was a widely available cloth in the Viking Age, but because it does not survive well in archaeological settings, it is often more difficult to find evidence of. Its use for veils in Anglo-Saxon England and on the Continent is known from impressions and some fragments, 80 There were no pieces of linen from Dublin positively identified as parts of headdresses. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t used, only that it the soil conditions are not conducive to its survival. It may have been used to make the same sorts of headdresses, or even possibly a form currently unknown. 81

No traces of dyes were found on the Dublin caps, though a few showed signs of the presence of mordants, which may indicate they were dyed once but the dye decayed. 82 However, some naturally occurring mordants may have leached in from the soil. In the silks, several dyes are present. The largest scarf was dyed with lichen purple, though which lichen is unknown. Two of the silk hats had traces of indigotin, likely from

77 78

Heckett, 2007 pg 94 Owen-Crocker, 2004 pg 79 79 Heckett, 2003 pg 105 80 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 157 81 Heckett, 2003 pg 109 82 ibid, pg 129

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woad, and one had traces of madder. 83 Some of the pieces had a golden brown tint to them. This may be their natural colour, however, or colour leached in by the soil. 84 Dye analyses in Anglo-Saxon textiles indicates dyed cloth was a lot less common than previously thought, and occurred with greater frequency in accessories such as veils and scarves and in trimmings than in whole garments. Reds and purples tended to be confined to threads for embroidery, narrow bands and headdresses. Blues, greens, browns and yellows were a bit more common on larger pieces of clothing, and also used for accessories and trims; blue in particular. 85 The same is true in Scandinavia, where undyed clothes were the norm in day-to-day garments. Most undyed clothing came from naturally pigmented wools, which were rarely dyed, and natural or bleached linen. Dyed wools were predominantly white originally. Blue is one of the commonest colours mentioned in relation to clothing in the sagas. It is also the usual colour of a specific type of cloth called Birka-type, which is generally dyed a deep blue, as are the fine tabbies in high-status graves. Blue dye came from woad, in northern Europe. While the chemical component in woad is the same in indigo, which produces more dyestuff, indigo is a tropical plant that does not grow in Europe and would have been impractical to import at that time, when woad ass available. Idigotin is the only source of natural blue dye. 86 Reds primarily come from madder, though some imported dyes silks were coloured with kermes, and bedstraw was also used. While madder was grown in both England and France, it was sparingly used in both places and rare in Scandinavia. Kermes is derived from a beetle, which lives on the kermes oak in the Mediterranean. 87

83 84

ibid, pg 4 ibid, pg 93 85 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 62-3 86 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 63 87 Ewing, 2006 pg 155-7

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Purple is most commonly derived from lichen. Several lichens will produce this dye in various shades. It was particularly favoured in Dublin, 88 but rare in much of England, perhaps reflecting a scarcity of the types needed. 89 Yellow can come from a number of sources, one an unidentified plant labelled ‘Yellow X’ which is only known in Scandinavia. 90 Among the Anglo-Saxons weld and dyer’s greenweed were used. They give bright, fast yellows, and greenweed in particular was commonly used with woad to produce greens, hence its name. 91 Brown, aside from naturally pigmented wool, came from the tannins in walnut shells. Without a mordant, it gives a rich, reddish brown, 92 and over-dyed with woad, a deep blue-black. 93

88 89

ibid, pg 154-5 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 63-4 90 Ewing, 2006 pg 157 91 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 63 92 Ewing, 2006 pg 155 93 Walton-Rogers, 2007 pg 64

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A rather wide range of garments with which to cover, protect and dress the head were available to women in north-western Europe during the Viking Age. There was considerable overlap in styles between cultures, possibly due to increased amounts of trade between them during this era, though it is still somewhat unclear in some cases how widespread certain styles were. Clearly however, headdress was a remarkably evocative and important part of a woman’s attire, displaying to her contemporaries her wealth and status, her tastes, her culture and her beliefs.

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Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Sonia Chadwick Hawkes. 1967 “Early Anglo-Saxon Braids” Medieval Archaeology: Vol 11. Available at < http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-7691/ahds/dissemination/pdf/vol11/11_042_086.pdf>, (last accessed 26 Dec, 2007) Crowfoot, Elisabeth, Frances Pritchard & Kay Staniland. Textiles and Clothing: 11501450. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 2001. Dawson, Timothy. “Propriety, Practicality and Pleasure: The Parameters of Women’s Dress in Byzantium, AD 1000-1200”, Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience, AD 800-1200. ed. Lynda Garland. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., Aldershot. 2006. Ewing, Thor. Viking Clothing. Tempus, Stroud. 2006. Heckett, Elizabeth Wincott. “Some silk and wool head-coverings from Viking Dublin: uses and origins – an enquiry”, Textiles in Northern Archaeology- NESAT III: Textile Symposium in York, 6-9 May 1987. ed. Penelope Walton and John-Peter Wild. Archetype Publications, London. 1990. Heckett, Elizabeth Wincott. Viking Age Headcoverings from Dublin. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. 2003. Knudsen, Lise Raeder. “Brocaded Tablet-woven Bands: Same Appearance, Different Weaving Technique, Horning, Hvilehoj and Mammen”, Northern Archaeological Textiles – NESAT VII: Textile Symposium in Edinburgh, 5th-7th May 1999. ed. Frances Pritchard and John Peter Wild. Oxbow Books, Oxford. 2005. Krag, Anna Hedeager. “Denmark-Europe: Dress and Fashion in Denmark’s Viking Age”, Northern Archaeological Textiles – NESAT VII: Textile Symposium in Edinburgh, 5th-7th May 1999. ed. Frances Pritchard and John Peter Wild. Oxbow Books, Oxford. 2005. Muthesius, Anna. “Silk in the Medieval World”, The Cambridge History of Western Textiles. ed. D. T. Jenkins. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2003. Ostergard, Else. Woven into the Earth: Textiles from North Greenland. Aarhus University Press, Aarhus. 2004. Owen-Crocker, Gale. Dress in Anglo-Saxon England. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 2004. Vanhaeke, Lisa and Chris Verhecken-Lammens. “Textile Pseudomorphs from a Merovingian Burial Ground in Harmignies, Belgium”, Northern Archaeological Textiles

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– NESAT VII: Textile Symposium in Edinburgh, 5th-7th May 1999. ed. Frances Pritchard and John Peter Wild. Oxbow Books, Oxford. 2005. Walton-Rogers, Penelope. “The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in Britain, AD 450-1050”, The Cambridge History of Western Textiles. ed. D. T. Jenkins. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2003. Walton-Rogers, Penelope. Cloth and Clothing in Early Anglo-Saxon England. Council for British Archaeology, York. 2007.

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