Did the Danish Vikings bring their early Tartans
with them to Ireland and Scotland?
Archaeological "digs" in Denmark during the
late 18th Century and first half of the 20th Century
have uncovered a number of human bodies buried in peat
bogs that have been remarkably well preserved from the
Iron Age period (1200 BC). Some of these Iron Age bodies
were discovered complete with well-preserved and
surprisingly intact clothing of that period.
The most complete woman’s costume of Iron Age date
that has been preserved came from Huldre Fen, at Ramten
in Djursland, the broad peninsula which projects east
from the mainland of Jutland (in Denmark), and was
discovered in 1879.
The Huldre Fen woman wore a lambskin
cape next to the skin, and she wore another over the
upper part of her body as an outer garment. A Tartan
skirt was fastened to the body with a leather strap and
a head-scarf or kerchief of the same material, fastened
by a bird-bone pin, covered her head and neck. (The
cloth has a neat squared pattern that was obtained by
the alteration of two yarns of different colour: two
natural wool colours, a golden brown and a very dark
brown, being used.) A leather strap, four feet ten
inches in length, and a woolen hair-band were packed
inside a bladder. In a pocket was a horn comb of unusual
shape probably of the beginning of the early Iron Age,
and so dating the discovery as a whole. Also found were
woolen strings, one plaited from two threads twisted
together, the other drawn through two amber beads.
Clothing from Huldre Fen
The woman and the clothing were sent to the National
Museum of Denmark for study. The surviving items of
dress are exhibited there now. (On a later occasion a
further garment was recovered from the bog close to the
spot where the woman was found.)
A discovery made in June 1942 in peat-cutting at Bred
Fen, Storarden (Arden forest) is from the same district.
As often happens in such cases the local police were
first called in, and the body was dug up and laid out in
the nearest barn. It was only later that the local
archaeologist, the curator of the Museum in Aalborg,
Peter Riismoller, was told. He vetted the find at the
spot with a meeting with the chief of police and the
district medical officer, and it was subsequently sent
for further investigation to the National Museum.
The investigation at the National Museum showed that
the dead woman’s hair was of a darkish blonde colour
and of luxuriant growth and plaited into two pig-tails
which were coiled up into a crown on top of the head and
bound with woolen yarn. Over the hair was a skillfully
made little bonnet or cap of wool yarn, held by two
fastening-strings. This is made by means of a special
technique known as "sprung" (sprang) and is a
charming net-like head covering. Underneath her lay a
coarse woolen cloth consisting of two pieces sewn
together; a long piece of cloth of a finer weave, and,
at the head, a decomposed scarf or kerchief.
The Huldre bog woman's scarf.
Male dress is far less well represented in the Danish
bog finds; and what there is seems to give an incomplete
picture of it, for it consists of practically nothing
but skin shoulder-capes which could only have covered a
very small area of the upper body. Roman accounts of
their military encounters with "Germani"
warriors describe the universal dress amongst them as a
cape fastened by a brooch (the safety pin of the time)
or for those who lacked a brooch, a thorn.
That the Danes had a form of Tartan
cloth before the Viking Age is an historical fact.
The question is, to what extent did the Vikings use
of Tartan influence the native Celts of
Ireland and Scotland, after Viking settlements in those