The 85th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2016)


The woman in blue: using modern analytical methods to investigate a Viking Age burial from Iceland

JOE W. WALSER III1,2,3,7, TINA JAKOB3, MICHELE H. SMITH4, JULIA TUBMAN5, FREYJA H. ÓMARSDÓTTIR1, SANDRA S. EINARSDÓTTIR1, KEVIN SMITH4, JANET MONTGOMERY3, STEINUNN J. KRISTJÁNSDÓTTIR1,2, SIGRÍÐUR S. EBENESERDÓTTIR7,8 and KAREN FREI6.

1Anthropology, Archaeology and Conservation, National Museum of Iceland, 2Archaeology, University of Iceland, 3Archaeology, Durham University, 4Anthropology, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University, 5Archaeology, Gunnersbury Park Museum, 6Conservation and Natural Sciences, National Museum of Denmark, 7Anthropology, deCODE Genetics, 8Anthropology, University of Iceland

April 14, 2016 , Atrium Ballroom A/B Add to calendar

This study presents a multi-disciplinary perspective on a Viking-age (9th/early 10th century) woman whose grave was discovered at Ketilsstaðir, eastern Iceland, in 1938, and whose skeleton was very incomplete and poorly preserved. The woman from Ketilsstaðir wore typical copper-alloy Scandinavian oval brooches, one of which was in direct contact with her face, resulting in significant soft tissue and textile preservation. The soft tissue remains were contained in a jar with a formalin solution until recently and have since been transferred into light paraffin oil. The grave contained a typical array of Viking Age grave goods, beads, jewelry, a touchstone, iron tools, wooden fragments, and a semi-precious stone. The recovered textiles represent the woman’s garments.

This paper will present the results of scientific analyses undertaken on all aspects of this individual's burial, including her physical remains and material culture. Stable isotopic analyses have demonstrated the woman’s non-local origin, migration patterns, health, and dietary changes through life. Strontium analysis on the wool from her textiles, combined with microscopic analyses, fibre identification, and dye analysis has determined that her wool was local and that the textiles were woven according to combined weaving traditions from both Scandinavian and continental Europe or the British Isles. AMS dating has also demonstrated that this woman and her textiles date to the earliest phase of the settlement of Iceland. This research aims to shed light on the cultural complexity of the North Atlantic settlement process, as well as to stress the significance of such multidisciplinary case studies.

National Science Foundation, for textile analyses: “Weaving Islands of Cloth, Gender, Textiles, and Trade across the North Atlantic, from the Viking Age to the Early Modern Period” (NSF no.1303898)