A woman’s body was unearthed during peat-cutting in Huldremose bog in Denmark in 1879. She was originally thought to be a recent murder victim, but the clothes she was wearing revealed that she was an ancient victim, either of murder or ritual sacrifice. Huldremose I, or Huldremose woman as we will call her, is one of many Iron Age bog bodies that have been found in Denmark, Germany, Britain and Ireland over the last two hundred years. Recent radiocarbon dates have indicated that the Huldremose woman probably died some time between 350 and 341 BC (Gleba & Mannering 2010, 35).
She now resides at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. Her clothing has been studied for a long time. She was wearing a woolen skirt with a leather strap in a woven waistband, and a scarf fastened under the left arm with a bird bone pin. Both the woolen garments clearly showed a checked pattern, but appeared to be brown in colour. Recent work has revealed that the skirt was dyed with blue and yellow dyes, possibly creating blue or green, and the scarf seems to have been dyed red (Vanden Bergha, Glebe & Mannering 2009, 1911-1920). The scarf was made on a tubular loom and must have been slipped over the head before being secured with a pin (Gleba & Mannering 2010, 33).
She was also wearing two sheepskin capes, one under the other. The inner one had the wool inwards and the outer one had the wool outwards. The outer sheepskin was mainly dark brown wool with a lighter collar of goat skin. The inner sheepskin had 22 patches, and inside one patch, sewn into the cape, was a horn comb, a blue hairband and a leather cord all wrapped in a bladder. They may have been amulets (Gleba & Mannering 2010, 33).
The Huldremose woman was also wearing a woolen cord to tie her hair in a pony tail, which was wrapped around her neck several times. She also had a woolen thread on which were two small amber beads. She seems to have been wearing a ring when she died, but this has since been lost. She didn’t seem to have any shoes.
Recent reexamination of the woman’s body revealed traces of a plant fibre that had been woven in a different weave to the woolen garments (which were in twill, for anyone who is interested). The new fabric was in a plain weave and small traces of the thread revealed that it was a plant fibre. Plant based fabrics do not survive well in bogs because of the acidic nature of the peat, so this is very rare evidence of a linen, nettle or hemp fabric used as an undergarment between the skin and the woolen clothes (Gleba & Mannering 2010, 36). Anyone who does Iron Age living history will know you can’t wear woven wool next to the skin, and now we have evidence that prehistoric people couldn’t bear it either.
Huldremose II, which is the find of a dress near to where Huldremose woman was found, will be discussed in another blog post.
Gleba, M & Mannering, U 2010. A thread to the past: the Huldremose woman revisited. Archaeological Textiles Newsletter 50. pp32-7.
Vanden Bergha, I. V, Gleba, M & Mannering, U 2009. Towards the identification of dyestuffs in Early Iron Age Scandinavian peat bog textiles. Journal of Archaeological Science 26. pp 1910-1921.