Sweater from Iron Age is quite the fashion statement


Photo courtesy of Marianne Vedeler/Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo

The discovery of a sweater dating to the Iron Age, about 1,700 years ago, suggests that “fashion” was as much a consideration for hunters in the Norwegian high country as warmth and comfort.

The slip-on button-less tunic, woven in a diamond twill weave and featuring a boat neck, was discovered two years ago beneath melting snow on Norway’s Lendbreen glacier, at 6,560 feet above sea level.

But the finding was only recently explained in the journal Antiquity, as reported by Rossella Lorenzi of Discovery News.


Photo of Norway’s Lendbreen glacier region is courtesy of Vivian Wangen

Marianne Vedeler of the University of Oslo, and Lise Bender Jørgensen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explained in the paper that the sweater and other archaeological finds are emerging in thawing glacial ice not only in Norway but other parts of the world, caused by a warming climate.

Discovery writes:

Found in a hunting area on the Norwegian Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet above the sea level, the well-preserved tunic was made between 230 and 390 A.D., according to radiocarbon dating.

“It is a very rare item. Complete garments from early first millennium A.D. Europe can be counted on the fingers of one hand,” Bender Jørgensen told Discovery News.
Examinations with a scanning electron microscope and light microscopy revealed that two different fabrics, made of lamb's wool or wool from adult sheep, are present in the tunic.
"There is no doubt that the wool was carefully chosen for both fabrics, and that both quality and natural pigmentation were taken into consideration," the researchers said.

The greenish-brown sweater, believed to have belonged to a reindeer hunter, was made to fit a slender man about 5 feet, 9 inches tall. It looks to have been mended at least twice, including the addition of sleeves.

Jørgensen said this suggests “that the hunter looked after his clothing.” But the researcher added that the hunter might not have been the garment’s first owner.

Interestingly, the sweater is very similar to one excavated more than 150 years ago at the Thorsberg peat bog in Schleswig-Holsten, Germany. It was believed to have belonged to an officer.

Said Jørgensen: “The similarity between the two tunics is very interesting as it suggests that a specific style was intended, and that ‘fashion’ was known over a wide area. Both are woven in a weave called diamond twill that was popular in large parts of northern Europe in the period.”

As modern designers might attest, it looks rustic, but practical.