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Gavlneset og Gavlen, at right, in sunset. Foto: Idar Nilssen.

"Skjoldehamndrakten vender tilbake"

Skjoldehamn costume returns

Translated by Jennifer Bray

Mer om Skjoldehamndrakten       

More about the Skjoldehamn costume


Aktuelt fra distriktet Presentations on Skjoldehamn Free Church Skjoldehamn frikirke of Norway and Scandinavia's oldest costume from this era.


Tilbake til Andøy

Tilbake til oversikten







  Presenters: Kjersti Åshagen, curator at Andøymuseet - Museum North and Lars Erik Narmo, archaeologist and archeology research manager at LOFOTR, Viking Museum at Borg in Vestvågøy.

Slightly less than 70 people braved the bad weather and showed up for the event, which was organized by Andøy Historical Society and Museum North - Andøymuseet.


Short about the costume from Skjoldehamn:

The costume from Skjoldehamn on Andøya - the context, research history and reconstruction

By Lars Erik Narmo, archaeologist and research manager at Lofotr Viking Museum


The costume from Skjoldehamn, referred to as “Skjoldehamndrakten” in Norwegian was found by peat cutting next to the farmhouses at Skjoldehamn on the southern part of Andøya.  If you know where to see you can study the site passing by with the Hurtigruten or by visiting the location.

The Skjoldehamncostume consist of a body with hood (kaprun), outer skirt (kofte), inner skirt (skjorte), trouses (bukser), a belt, foot wrappings (ankelkluter) and bounds (ankelsurringer), socs (lester) and shoes (sko).  The body was wrapped in a carpet (teppe) knitted with beautiful bonds (band) and leather straps.

The good preserved textiles and poorly conditioned body was soon dismissed as a resent crime in june 1936.  The chief of the Police ordered the body to be reburied on the church yard at Bjørnskinn.  Later, in the atumn the same year, the discovery was reported to Tromsø Museum.  They believed the findings to be maximum 200 years old   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).

In short Guttorm Gjessing published the Skjoldehamn costume as a late medieval costume, a Norse poor man buried in unfashioned clothing, probably deposited in the bog as a punishment due to a serious crime.  Gjessings article in “Viking” from 1938 are the most up to date fully discussion of the costume from Skjoldehamn.  The pictures of the museum caretaker at Tromsø Museum dressed in the costume are often sited in historical literature.  However few studies based on the actual archaeological material has been published in the past 70 yeas. 

The costume from Skjoldehamn was deposited to be preserved at the University of Bergen, and still is.  Because of the good state of preservation the details of this costume is of great interest to reconstructions of old/prehistoric suits – as Lofot Viking Museum.  We wanted to do a detailed reconstruction but the published details were not sufficient.  Luckily the MA student in archaeology Dan Halvard Løvlid at the University of Bergen got interest in writing a theses based on a new complete empirical study of the Skjoldehamn costume.  A part of the process was experimental archaeology to reconstruct of the suit at Lofotr Viking Museum.   

We started the reconstruction process in 2008 and have used quite a lot of recourses on this up to this year.  To finish the complete costume we have to continue the next year as well.  This archaeological experiment is open to the public at Lofotr Viking Museum during the season and many handcrafters have helped Dan Halvard Løvlid to recreate the material, among them the textile worker Karin Sliper involved in the whole process up to now. 

When you got to know it the costume of Skjoldehamn is a fascinating story about prejudice in the research history (virkningshistorie) when it comes to ethnicity, gender and social position.  Among other we now can date the costume to approximately 1050 AD.  The Late Viking Age dating is 4 – 500  hundred years earlier to Gjessings interpretations 70 years ago, making the Skjoldehamn costume to the oldest existing complete clothing in Norway, and unique to the Viking Age from Scandinavia.


  Helge Guttormsen wrote his history in the history society’s yearbook for 1984:

The year is 1936. A June day a man is cutting peat from the bog between Gavlen farm and Skjolde.

 Suddenly the spade cuts down at the feet of a corpse deep in the marsh. The body lay on 4-5 twigs from roughly hewn birch branches, 4-5 cm thick and approx. 50 cm long. Over these rods, which lay cross wise, lay the remains of a reindeer skin hair side uppermost. The body in its clothes was placed upon this. It was wrapped in a blanket bound in a bundle by thin leather straps and narrow woven ribbons. Over everything lay a layer of birch bark.

Further measurements showed this birch bark layer was 87 cm below the surface, with the rods probably at a depth of 20-30 cm deeper. The body laid on the left side, sloping to the north, according to the finder, Richard Olsen. The knees were pulled up, the right arm stretched down to the knees and the head was probably facing left. The finder of the body believed that there was a 5 inch fracture on the skull and the brain mass was barely preserved, a reddish stain could be seen through this break in the skull. Did a blow from an axe cause this burial?

We do not know and will never be able to get further clarity. For in the summer of 1936 there were no professionals nearby than in Tromso Museum, so the body was buried again in a marsh close by.

At Tromsø Museum it was believed based on the information that was available, that this was a folk costume from the 17-1800s. The farmer Hans Liavik was therefore asked to dig the remains of body and clothing from the marsh, pack it well and send it to Tromsø. However, as soon as the find finally arrived in Tromso in November 1936 it was realized that the costume was a find of significance not just in North Norway, but also in a wider Norwegian and Nordic context.

Here was the first discovery of a medieval costume in Norway, and one known only in other Nordic countries from a few items from Denmark, and several from Greenland.
(The idea that the find originated in the Middle Ages lasted until very recently when it was determined that it is actually Viking Age, ie some 400 years earlier than first thought: Editor's Note)

Following directives from one of the experts on old textile finds, Curator T. Dannevig Hauge at the University Museum of Antiquities in Oslo, the then curator of Tromsø, Guttorm Gjessing, prepared the Skjoldehamn suit. Let us here look at the organization that was started to secure this rare costume find for posterity.
The most important thing was to remove organic salts and acids that had helped to preserve the costume whilst it lay in the marsh, but which would quickly break down textile remains in the open air. First, he acquired a large sink. Here the textile remains were placed in flowing water to help rinse the salts. Special procedures were adopted to keep the water flowing. To be sure that all the water was changed, the tub was emptied once a day for 14 days, rinsed and cleaned gently washing away soil and anything else insoluble in water. Thereafter, the fabric was rinsed twice in distilled water to remove humic substances and salts that were present in the pure water, but were detrimental to textile remains.
Finally, the costume was slowly dried at + 18 degrees C. In order to obtain a uniform drying the woolen garments were reversed periodically. The fabric of the suit was preserved by the addition of glycerin and then slowly dried in a cool room for several weeks.
Thus the Skjoldehamn costume was saved for posterity. Now began a prolonged effort to reconstruct the costume’s original form. This was time consuming, as many parts of wool clothing were destroyed. To reveal where the remaining remnants lay on the costume, they were attached to a reconstructed model of thin satin fabric in about the same color as the wool.

















The "bog find" from 1936 was the theme of the lectures.
Lofotr – the Viking Museum at Borg in Vestvågøy, worked to recreate the Skjolde suit in every detail. The picture shows a reconstruction of the suit in the "right" materials and "right" manufacturing tecchniques. Kaprun (cap), and bands, have assumed the right color, but the actual suit (kofta) has a slightly bluish tint incorrect as a result of attempts to color the wool gray. Authorities believe the original suit was made of naturally gray wool. The trousers were probably natural color
of white wool. Photo: Idar Nilssen.




Kjersti Åshagen began with some of the pre-history and the circumstances surrounding the famous "bog find" in Skjoldehamn.
It was Richard Olsen who made the find. Because of the lack of specialists who could take care of the body, it was reburied in the marsh temporarily. Later Hans Liavik was given the task of digging it up and arranging for it to be sent to Tromsø. The person who was buried was wearing a dress that already then warranted the attention was attracting. Later, after some 70 years, one could determine with a high degree of certainty that the discovery stemmed from the late Viking Age - around the time of the Battle of Stiklestad. Photo: Idar Nilssen.


The find was made in southern Skjoldehamn, in Gavlen on the border of the farm Skjolde.
The picture shows Gavlneset and some of Skjoldehamn, from Hinnøya at the east side of Risøysundet (Risøy Strait). The site is indicated by a cross in the picture. Photo: Idar Nilssen.


Lars Erik Narmo giving details of the newer research and the work of reconstructing the Skjoldehamn costume.
The work was carried out as a joint project between Lofotr Viking Museum and the Department of Archeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion at the University of Bergen. Textile expert Karin Sander had sickness absence, so Narmo also had to talk about technical textile technical topics, which he claimed to have mediocre knowledge of. He said among other problems related to the weaving of the fabric, when using the warp weighted loom (which obviously was used for the original) it was discovered that the warp threads broke. This problem did not happen when using a "modern" horizontal loom. According to Dan Halvard Løvlid’s project description from 2008, Ellen Schjølberg investigated the costume in the 1980s, when she undertook wool analysis of the fabrics, and more detail on how the fabrics and garments were constructed than Guttorm Gjessing had done. Schjølberg’s analyses have not been published, with the exception of those made on the cap. They are part of Vera Hugel master thesis”paa en Stang Struden efter hannem bære. Forskning på hetter og struthetter fra Nordens middelalder" (Carried by a man on a stick. Report on Nordic medieval hoods and peaked caps) from 2005.
Where it emerges that Gjessing probably made some misinterpretations, eg. the decorative stitching on the cap was interpreted as repairs. It is certain at least that the blanket was not reconstructed correctly, it was mounted inside out, and some parts were put in with the warp the wrong way (Hügel 2005: 20 and 35).
While Gjessing reconstructed the blanket as almost twice as long as wide, the new reconstruction is almost square. Photo: Idar Nilssen.


Kjersti Åshagen, left., and Trine Adolfsen from the Viking Museum, show the reconstructed costume.
The hood has assumed the correct brown color, while the outer skirt is in an incorrect bluish tone instead of plain gray. The trousers have a natural white color, as they believe it was originally.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.


Detail of outer skirt
Photo: Idar Nilssen



The hood was made up of several parts, probably woven in four shaft twill (like the rest of the suit) in natural brown colored wool.
In his thesis of 2005, "on a pole Struden by hannem bear," Vera Hugel includes this about the hood: "The warp threads of the hood are made of stronger yarn as warp always has to withstand greater stress during the weaving process. There is thus a greater amount of guard hairs in the warp relative to the weft yarn having more undercoat. The weave binding of this fabric is four shaft twill (Gjessing1938: 40). The hood is the only garment which is fulled to any significant extent, and the dark felt layer on the inside of the hood is caused by the dark weft yarn having felted.
The warp yarns are equally dark but have not felted. Examination shows that the warp is equally intact on the surface that has been protected by the weft. The fabric of the hood is very smooth, and the unevenness of the material has been reduced by shrinkage during heavy fulling. (Schjølberg: u å) the hood has absorbed some color from remaining in the marsh, but the inside’s dark brown color is noticeably darker than the other costume pieces, and can be assumed to be close to the original. The distinct color difference between inside and outside, can be assumed to be the result of bleaching. The weft seems to be a lighter coloured yarn, this may be because of normal wear, and perhaps because the finer fiber bleached lighter. (Schjølberg: u å) The hood consists of four parts. Two rectangular pieces are sewn together over the head and along the back of the head, they form the hood and continue below the head and shoulders forming the shoulder parts. These pieces are cut in a straight line, but wool analysis show that the pieces have not been in the weave direction vevbane.
It is inserted two wedges, one in front under the chin and on down, and the other behind the neck and down the back. The wedges and width of shoulder made and is accompanied Schjølberg analysis rectangular in shape and thus deviating from Gjessing description of those rhomboid. For bakkile and belong to the same vevbane, where there are clear differences in color and wool between the warp and weft. Hood left side and back wedge is completely preserved. Large parts of the right side is also preserved, and the left side of the chest wedge and a bit of the right side just below the chin. The bottom edge of the cap is just folded over, and there's no trace of it has been folded into. (Schjølberg: nd).
Photo: Idar Nilssen.

Båndene på drakten er grindvevd. Bildet viser en "båndgrind" utlånt fra Museum Nord. (Klikk på bildet for forstørrelse). Foto: Idar Nilssen.





The sleeves of the costume have bands woven with a rigid heddle
in natural gray, brown, red and green colours.

Photo: Idar Nilssen




The trousers’ lower edge is decorated in the same way.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.




The Tunic also had trim around the neck.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.




There have been discussions about the shoes, but it seems that it's all about moccasins.
Komogene is a well known Sami footwear from later times.They
were also partially used by ethnic Norwegians, including for
winter hunting on Spitsbergen during the last century.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.




The suit was equipped with multiple woven straps.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.






The speech drew more than 60 listeners. Here, the audience
starts to arrive. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



One saw both the old and the very young in the audience.

Photo: Idar Nilssen.




Listeners to Kjersti Åshagen ho was amongst the presenters.

The local newspaper sent Alf Ragnar Olsen, Trine Adolfsen, Lars Erik Narmo, Marianne Pettersen and historian Johan Borgos. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



It was an attentive audience that followed talks about an unusual interesting topic.

Many took the opportunity for questions and comments. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



One the other hand one also had the magnificent building more than a century old. Photo: Idar Nilssen.




Newfangled devices.

An archaeologist and a museum curator, Lars Erik Narmo and Kjersti Åshagen, preparing for the use of aids from a different time than those concerned with their jobs.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.



These three ladies provided catering, coffee and waffles.

From the left: Annbjørg Kristiansen, Jorunn Fjeld Nilsen and Solveig Nordback.
Photo: Idar Nilssen.




  The find site
A later picture of the site in the marsh just south of the Free Church. It used the old image of Guthorm Gjessing in 1937 as a guide. In addition, the site marked on the newer versions of Økomomisk maps. Yet it was necessary to resort to GPS navigation to find the point that is registered.


This is one of the pictures Guttorm Gjessing took in 1937, the year after the discovery was made.

It catches sight of Frikirken at the right edge of the picture and the house of Hamansen is in the middle of the picture. Peat piles hide some of the terrain above the



The area looks a little different in 2009.

The photographer had to stand a little further south than Gjessing because of the forest that grown up since. One can no longer see Frikirken but Hamansenhuset is still there. The find site according to the map reference recorded is indicated by arrows. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



This photo was taken in a slightly more northerly direction. One can glimpse the roof of the Frikirken, and you still have peat about 15 meters further west. This probably happened before 1953. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



The find site map reference from above. There seems to be a
small stone cairn standing at the site from a long time ago. Mostly
overgrown with moss, and only the top stone is visible. It might be
Guttorm Gjessing who made this marker. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



The search for "the scene".

Many braved the nasty weather in search of the site. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



Oddmund Pettersen was only 6 years old when the discovery was made.
But he remembers the circumstances and talked about it. Photo: Idar Nilssen.



  What happens in the future?
A bit about reconstruction of the Skjoldehamn costume.
v / Lars Erik Narmo, research manager at Lofotr Viking Museum
1. October 2009

The Skjoldehamn costume was found by peat cutting in a swamp far south of Andøya in 1936. The find was published by archaeologist Guttorm Gjessing in an article in Viking 1938. The costume is kept at Bergen Museum where it has been studied by Aud Bergli, Inger Raknes Pedersen and Ellen Schjølberg amongst others. Empirical studies of the primary costume material have scarcely been published since Gjessing’s article.

Many, however, have supposed much about the costume or its parts on the basis of what is published - without having seen it for themselves. The need for empirical review of the primary material was the basis for the reconstruction of Skjoldehamn costume the Lofotr Viking Museum. In collaboration with AHKR - Department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion, University of Bergen, we found Dan Halvard Løvlid who wanted to write a master's thesis on textiles. After agreement on access to the costume from Tromsø Museum Løvlid’s work on the Skjoldehamn costume was established asthe subject for a Masters thesis in archeology.
Knut Andreas Bergsvik of AHKR was the formal supervisor for the task. The costume came to Bergen Museum from Tromsø Museum about 25 years ago. Bergli and Schølberg of Bergen Museum assisted Dan Halvard Løvlid in his empirical study of the costume.

The reconstruction of the costume was conducted at Lofotr Viking Museum. Dan Halvard Løvlid led reconstruction efforts in the longhouse through two seasons. The work was not completed within the year and therefore the reconstruction extended into a third season. The work of reconstruction has been open to the public. Lofotr Viking museum had about 67,000 visitors in 2008, the number of visitors is similar this year. The Skjoldehamn costume is thus conveyed to many - in languages like Russian, Polish, Italian, French, English, German etc.
Dan Halvard Løvlid 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 Lepsøe (weaving techniques) contributed to parts of the reconstruction.
The reconstruction of the Skjoldehamn suit will appear in Løvlid’s thesis in the fall semester of 2009. Lofotr Viking Museum will add the thesis to the PDF documents when it becomes available. Until further notice, we refer to the project description on our website
The project status is that the shirt, socks, ankle cloths and "moccasins" remain to be reconstructed. The latter is the portion of a shoe with Saami moccasin form, but without hair. This year we began reconstructing the blanket on a warp weighted loom. This was assigned because the thin warp threads significantly affect the checked pattern’s appearance. Four shaft weaving on a warp weighted loom is difficult and time consuming, we wove a maximum length of 7 cm per day. The blanket is two 2,6 metre
long widths. Therefore it will probably continue on a horizontal loom.
The reconstructed Skjoldehamn costume will be included in the new access based Lofotr Viking Museum. It is scheduled to open 1 May of  2001. The exhibition in the new building will consist of three rooms where the theme of the first room is "Hålogaland". The Skjoldeham costume, with Sami and Norse elements, is well suited to discussing whether the Hålogalend people were Vikings. When Løvlid’s master’s thesis exists, the plan is for Lofotr Viking Museum to create an exhibition based on reconstruction of the Skjoldeham costume. We think that this is currently a temporary exhibit at the museum in the 2010 season. However, we are open for co-financing so that it becomes a traveling exhibition for those who show interest.


Tilbake til Andøy      Tilbake til oversikten