Reconstruction of a silk pattern from Oseberg

An interesting study from Ase Erikson: Med silke til Valhall – En studie av monster og vevemetoder (With silk to Valhalla – A study about patterns and weaving metholds) investigated the silk fragments from Oseberg, and managed to reconstruct one fragmented pattern.

In the famous Oseberg ship burial two women were buried in the year 834, and 110 pieces were found from 15 different fabrics of patterned silk. The majority of them can come from areas in Central Asia, and a minority can come from the Eastern Mediterranean. The silk pieces aren’t to large, usally maximum 2 cm wide narrow stripes, wich were used to lining edges and decorate clothes. Altogether the fragments give us approximately 8 m of decorative band.

Silk pieces from Oseberg which were used in the reconstruction process

Birds in medalions?

The current pattern reconstruction was made in coproduction by Ase Erikson and Marianne Vedeler, the writer of the great book: Silk for the Vikings. They choose several fragments what were belongod to the same pattern and puzzled them together. This work gave them the frame of the pattern, what they could supplement to get a more or less overall picture.

The result of course is not a 100% entire reconstruction of the original, but it let us see the majority of the formal pattern. There is a bird motif, with an oval like halfmedalion frame, with heart symbols inside. At the bottom we can see a tree like ornament, and we can suspect that something is hanging from the bird’s beak.

The pattern with reconstructed colors

Ase Erikson even managed to handloom the pattern. Not with the exact same technique like the original was made, but still this act introduced her work with the pattern to the world of experimental archeology.

Road to Central Asia

About the parallels of the bird motif we can find the same traces to central Asia. On the picture below we comparing the reconstruction with a Sogdian pattern form the VIIIth century.

Interesting to note that a later pattern from the XI-XIIth century with Iranian origin still bears the main characteristics of this type. The silk we call Kufic Geese Silk, still bears the main caharacteristics of the type: The mirror birds, the medalion composition, the tree like ornament in the bottom, and the hanging floral ornament from the beaks.

Pattern of a full silk robe from the Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Shahrokh

But this isn’t the only pattern with a bird from Central Asia among the Oseberg silks. Another piece clearly show us a bird with a pearl-formed shape in it’s beak. This animal is known from the Sasanian decoration art. It’s called Shahrokh (Kingbird) in Old Perisan language. This bird gives heavenly blessing to the ruler.

Picture from Marianne Vedeler: Silk for the Vikings
Ambassadors in the fersco of Afrasiyab (Samarkand, Central Asia). The man in the middle wearing a full silk kaftan with Shahrokh motifs

Literature:
Eriksen, Åse: Med silke til Valhall, En studie av mønster og vevemetoder. In: FAGFELLEVURDERT VIKING, Norsk Arkeologisk Arbok, Vol: LXXX. 2017.

Vedeler, Marianne: Silk for the Vikings. Oxford 2014.

Vedeler, Marianne: Silk finds from Oseberg. Production and distribution of high status markers across ethnic boundaries. In: An offprint from Everyday Products in the Middle Ages. Creafts, Consumption and the Individual in Northern Europe c. AC 800-1600. Ed: Hansen, G. Ashby, S. Baug, I. Oxford 2015.