Early medieval / Viking age jeans
Claim: A (Aprilis prima)
Material: 2/2 cotton twill with indigo dye (mouth-crotched by Uzbek nuns under water), buttons made of iron, rivets made of bronze
I know, I know … most of you will first of all wonder if I’m completely mad and crazy about this reconstruction. So let me first put a few theoretical considerations together:
1) Trousers itself are well documented by finds. Thorsberg, Damendorf, Skjoldehamn. Sufficient variations of the pattern can already be found here, so that today’s jeans cut seems quite possible as a creative excess.
2) Cotton as a basic material was known and available. In the Byzantine Varangian Guard (which consisted mostly of Scandinavian Vikings), part of the armor (the Bambakion) was made of cotton. So one can assume that returnees brought this back home with them as knowledge or as raw material.
3) Diagonal twill as the binding of the material was well-known and has been retained to this day.
4) Indigo as a dye has been used extensively in the eastern regions. So it seems completely conclusive that resourceful dyers also happily combined cotton and indigo. Even if this should not have been the case, a wonderfully stonewashed look can be achieved with the adequately documented and popular woad, which puts the fashionable understanding of the early medieval people in a completely new light.
5) Even the pockets of the jeans can theoretically be derived well. Just think of fragment H55 A from the harbour of Haithabu. The transfer of a tunic pocket to a pair of trousers can justifiably be seen as a masterpiece of tailoring at the time, and it should have been way ahead of its time.
6) Dozens of references can be found in Birka alone for buttons. Even if most of the specimens were cast from bronze, in view of the craftsmanship at the time, some can also be made of other metals. As a reference for the use of buttons on trousers, I would like to refer to the underpants find from Moscevaja Balka, which also already has a button for fastening.
7) Stabilizing the seam connections by means of rivets seems quite modern. However, this principle of the rivet with a counter washer on the back can already be observed in the knife sheaths of that time. It seems quite logical – especially in view of the extensive and long-term use of textiles at the time – that this process was also applied to trousers.
8) Jeans are even represented several times in contemporary iconographic representations. In various psalteries, men can be seen in tight-fitting blue legwear, which can be interpreted as nothing more than skinny jeans. Here, too, the fashion of the time shows clear parallels to modern times, and underlines the highly developed clothing style of the Northmen, often wrongly denigrated as ‘uncouth barbarians’ .
That’s the theory.
Now let’s get to the facts.
1) Old Norse knows the term ‘(Blá) önd súrsæt’, the ‘(blue) cotton trousers’.
2) In the Gallastríðið saga it says: “Gallíu er skipt í þrjá hluta, annar þeirra er byggður af Belgum, hinn af Aquitans og sá þriðji af þeim sem kallaðir eru Keltar á sínu tungumáli, á okkaru.”
In other words: “And before he left the house, Gollum the Magnificent put on the cotton trousers of the hard-working craftsmen so that he would be considered one of them in the future.”
3) In the ‘MS Cotton de Nimes’ (dated to the middle of the 10th century) there is a depiction of a man in blue trousers who is being carried by two others. Under his tunic, which has slipped up, you can see a patch pocket on the back of the exact shape and size that is used in today’s five-pocket jeans. (Image 1)
4) During the archaeological excavations in the port area of Birka, among other things, textile fragment W34 / L32 was found. A 2/2 cotton twill with remnants of an indigo dye. Here you can still see a double seam, which is reinforced by a bronze rivet. Right next to it is a round hole with neat edges that a second rivet would fit into. (Image 2)
5) In the hoard of Buttenheim there is an inconspicuous but very interesting pendant among numerous hacked silver. A so-called Anlaf-Guthfrithsson-Penny, a coin from the 10th century, which was first converted into a button with a long shaft (like in modern jeans) and later served as a pendant with a riveted eyelet. (Image 3)
6) One last hint is the work of the Swedish archaeologist Löb Strauss, which he published under the title “Effekten av jordnötssmör på jordrotationen”. Here he describes an almost perfectly preserved trouser find with all the characteristics of today’s jeans, which was found in 1834 in the bog near Riga by Jākobs Jufess and dated to the late Iron Age. (Image 4)
Based on all of these individual documents, the jeans I reconstructed are by no means a new and unknown item of clothing. Instead, the facts automatically condense into a compelling causality.
Because with all due respect to our ancestors – they weren’t stupid back then
I would like to close with a quote from my great Idol Harald Blauzahn: “Do not believe anything you find on the Internet, unless you have faked it yourself.”
/ Satire Off, and have a nice first April
Charles Bruns (via Viking Clothing on the Booke of Faces)
Sǫlveig Þrándardóttir said:
OK – This is an April Fools issue. For a moment I was thinking that somebody was trying to argue that a warm climate plant native to the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, and Mexico was being regularly grown at latitudes corresponding to Labrador. Much less than trying to spirit a clothing item known to have been invented during the California gold rush back to Viking era Scandinavia. At least they didn’t try to do zippers. Of course there were some clever mechanical inventions dating to antiquity and the Middle Ages. Perhaps we can extrapolate from cut paper artwork of East Asia. After all, the Verangian Guard had contact with Asiatic traders and Marco Polo complained about Buddhists in Constantinople. Now consider the comparative advantage of the zipper over buttons. Especially those emblazoned with the runes YKK which are of course derived from 吉田工業株式会社（Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha) suggesting the possibility of a Japanese precursor to the English Time Lords possibly resulting from Viking Age travel by Scandinavians to the Far East.