Viking Textiles Reveal Misconceptions About Women’s Power in Medieval Societies

The understood role of North Atlantic Viking women is often domestic, placing them second to men. However, new studies reveal these assumptions were made with present-day bias and that women were integral to the evolution of Medieval societies. At the forefront of this research is Michèle Hayeur Smith, an anthropological archaeologist at Brown University who analyzed textiles from the era to unearth the lives of Viking women. For years, she counted each weave and weft thread, realizing that colorful and diverse Viking cloths started to became similar, indicating that there was a legal, standardized cloth (called vaðmál) that women made and traded to earn a major income. Not only did these women create a product that greatly contributed to Viking economies, they also adapted their weaving techniques due to climate change when temperatures dropped greatly and warmer clothes were life-saving. Examining cast-aside textiles, Hayeur Smith has revealed the power women had in Viking communities while upholding the importance of the craft. Learn more about this at Scientific American.

Image courtesy of Chase Stone