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 too large, usually maximum 2 cm wide narrow stripes, which were used to lining edges and decorate clothes. Altogether, the fragments give us approximately 8 m of decorative band.
BIRDS IN MEDALLIONS?
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 belonged 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 halfmedallion 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.
Ase Erikson even managed to hand loom 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're comparing the reconstruction with a Sogdian pattern from the VIIIth century.
Sogdian kaftan from 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 characteristics of the type: The mirror birds, the medallion 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
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 its beak. This animal is known from the Sassanian decoration art. It’s called Shahrokh (Kingbird) in Old Persian language. This bird gives heavenly blessing to the ruler.
Picture from Marianne Vedeler: Silk for the Vikings
Ambassadors in the fresco of Afrasiyab (Samarkand, Central Asia). The man in the middle, wearing a full silk caftan with Shahrokh motifs
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.