The Herjolfsnes Artifacts

In 1921, a large number of graves were excavated in the burial ground of the old Norse colony of Herjolfsnes ("Herjolf's Point") in Greenland. Herjolfsnes was ostensibly founded about 985, by Herjolf Baardson (Father of Bjarni Herjolfsson, according to some sources, the first European to sight North America, and return to talk about it). The Colony settlement was eventually abandoned between about 1375 and 1410 (these dates are only rough estimates, of course).

It is probable, based on the general styles of the garments, and what little is known of the history of the site that these finds come from within the period of the 14th and early 15th centuries. In almost all cases, they were not found worn on the bodies buried in the graves, but were, in fact, being used as burial shrouds and wrappings. Also, in almost all cases, there was extreme damage to the materials from grave decomposition and underground root growth. In some cases this damage was sufficiently extreme that nothing could be gained from them. Those finds are not listed below.

P. Norlund, the archaeologist who excavated the site, has some interesting arguments about the finds and their meanings, some of which is at least worth repeating even though I don't really believe all of it myself:

  1. The dead were probably buried using their own clothing as shrouds. However, while the extant evidence appears to support this hypothesis, it can not be, in any way, meaningfully proved.
  2. The clothing styles appear to exhibit an understanding of the trends in clothing styles popular back on the European Mainland.
  3. The fact that the Greenland Colonies were less wealthy and far more distant than the main cultural centers of Europe implies a cultural "lag time" for the styles to sift down from the "upper crust" into the provinces. Therefore, the styles that reflect Mainland styles are not not likely to be absolutely contemporary to them.

Finally, if you haven't read the actual reports on this find, endeavor to do so. They are far more informative than any later author merely reporting what was said.

Some Sources:

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Some Clothes of the Middle Ages -- Herjolfsnes -- The Background, by I. Marc Carlson, Copyright 1996 This code is given for the free exchange of information, provided the Author's Name is included in all future revisions, and no money change hands