Piled fabric from Valsgärde, part 2 – Was it really a piled fabric?

In my last post about the analysis and reconstruction of the pillow made of piled fabric from Valsgärde, I had a lot of questions. I will start with trying to answer the most critical – Was it really a piled fabric? To do that I need to study both the fragments from Valsgärde 6 and Valsgärde 7. I will also try to answer the question “Was it really a pillow?”, even if the answer may not be what we hoped for.

Valsgärde 6

In the boat grave Valsgärde 6 the answer to the first question is a “yes”. There is a fragment (pictures in the last post) that clearly looks like a piled fabric. It consists of a 2/2 diagonal twill with heaps of thread fastened on one side. It is unfortunately impossible to see on the photos, because of the glass. I shall see if I can get better photos next time I visit Uppsala. There are also lots of fragments that are interpreted by Greta Arwidsson in the book Valsgärde 6 from 1942, as loose pile threads:

Lose und fragmentarische Vliesse wurden in grösserer Anzahl gefunden. Fragmente von Grundgewebe mit daransitzenden Vliessen dagegen sehr wenige und ganz unbedeutende.
(Lots of loose and fragmentary pile were found, but very few and diminutive fragments of ground weave with pile fastened to it. My translation)

Die Fläche, innerhalb deren die wahrscheinlich zu dem Knüpfgewebe gehörenden Vliesse und Gewebefragmente angetroffen wurden, ist etwa 0,85×1,50m. Da dieses Knüpfgewebe wie eine Art Decke über den Toten und die ihm zunächst liegenden Gegenstände gebreitet war, dürfte es berechtigt sein, es als einen wirklichen Teppich (schw. “rya”) anzusehen. Ausgeschlossen ist es aber nicht, es als einen Mantel zu betrachten, und zwar vielleicht wegen der Feinheit des Materials.
(The area within which the pile and weave fragments obviously belonging to the piled weave were found, is about 0,85×1,50m. As this piled weave was spread like a kind of cover over the deceased and the objects lying closest to him, it seems legitimate to see it as a real “rya”, Swedish for a type of blanket (in modern times a carpet) made of piled weave. It can not be excluded however, that it should be seen as cloak, maybe especially because of the fineness of the materials. My translation)

Well, first of all we can deduce that the reconstructed pillow is not based on Valsgärde 6, both because of the difference in materials and because of its assumed size. But we also need to look at those loose pile treads:

DSC_5471 - kopiaMost of these fragments are kept in a box between two sheets of class, and unfortunately moisture has been able to enter, which is seen as white lines. In the bottom compartments are two small fragments (about 1x1cm) of  weave, but they are not connected to the loose threads in the way a piled weave should be. What you can’t see in the picture is that the fineness of all the loose threads is about the same as in the ground weave of the integrated fragment shown in the earlier post, but much finer than the pile in that fragment. That counts for all other loose fragments I looked at to, and I believe I have covered all that remains today. This means that IF the loose threads are indeed pile, then they are not from the same piled weave. Another possibility is that they are parts of a soumak weave found in the same area. I have not looked at the soumak, but plan to get back in August for another look at the fragments, and will do that then.

Now the whole idea of the piled weave being a real “rya” is not so certain anymore. I believe that we have to accept that we don’t know the size of the object at all, based on the few fragments that can be clearly connected to it. On the other hand, piled weaves have throughout history been used mostly as blankets or cloaks so it is still quite possible.

Valsgärde 7

In Valsgärde 7 several fragments of a piled fabric was identified and published in the book Valsgärde 7 by Greta Arwidsson 1977. She says:

Reste eines wollenen Knüpfgewebes kommen unter Schild II und auf Sax I und II vor und ferner, teilweise weitgehend aufgelöst, under der Schildfessel von Schild III. Gleich under der Schildfessel von Schild II scheint der Köper V gelegen zu haben und darunter das Knüpfgewebe, wenigstens teilweise in zwei Schichten, teils mit den Knoten, teils mit der Rückseite aufeinanderliegend.
(There are remains of a wool piled weave under shield II and on saxes I and II partly very dissolved, and also under the shield grip from shield III. The twill V seems to have been lying right under the shield grip from shield II and under that was piled weave, at least partly in two layers, sometimes with the pile, sometimes with the back on each other. My translation)

I have looked at two of the fragments she refers to. They are both much more like the reconstructed pillow regarding the coarseness of the threads.

DSC_5482 (4) kopieraDSC_5482 (3) kopieraDSC_5482 (2) kopiera

This is the important part of the first fragment. You see the four cords that are supposed to be pile. A pile is fastened in the middle around the warp of the ground fabric and has two ends left loose. The Valsgärde piles are a little different, because the two ends are twined around each other to make a cord, but this cord still has two open ends, often unravelled. In the bottom of this picture you see that the loose ends of the cords don’t have open ends, but the threads turn and go back again. You can also see that the cord is tighter in the loose bottom end than in the end were it disappears into the fabric. This is how a fringe may look, and as we don’t have more than one row of cords, it is quite possible that it is a fringe.

DSC_5479DSC_5479 - kopia

This is the second fragment. Unfortunately it has wood on the back side (from shield II) so it does not help to turn it around. Here you see cords coming from the right side, continuing in a bow, getting more and more unravelled towards the left (as opposed to the first fragment). These cords are also much longer; at least 7cm. It seems like at least most of the threads continue across the whole fragment, based on the unravelling. There is a break in the middle, but the threads to the left of the break are unravelled from the very beginning, so the break is probably caused by something in the grave. There are a few threads at the edge of the fragment that may belong to a weave, but nothing directly under the coarse cords. There is no evidence saying that this was a pile. It can just as well have been a tassel or something like that.

As a conclusion, I have not been able so far to find any certain fragments of a piled weave in Valsgärde 7, but I have not looked at all the remains so there may still be one. Greta Arwidsson also writes that the piled weave in Valsgärde 7 is made in the same way as the one in Valsgärde 6, and to deduce that she should have had something better than the fragments I have looked at. I will definitely look at the rest of the remains during my August visit.

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