Lichen Purple, Tannin Red Reconstructing a Viking Age Finnish woman's woollen shawl

Krista Vajanto*, Mervi Pasanen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review


This paper is about colourful woollen textile fragments from the Late Iron Age (800 AD to 1055/1300 AD) found in Finland. These samples were analysed by transmitted light microscopy (TLM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) as well as element analysis by energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX) and new chromatographic analyses by ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) and by high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). Experimental archaeology was used to reconstruct the dyeing methods and to test the sustainability of dyes and the effect of dyeing methods on wool yarn. The results show that three different dyeing methods were used in Late Iron Age Finland: vat dyeing, mordant dyeing and fermentation of tannins. This dyeing tradition differed from the contemporary European tradition. Red tannins were obtained from alder, alder buckthorn and silver birch barks as well as from roots of common tormentil. Bright red anthraquinones, purpurin and alizarin, came from local bedstraws. Plant mordants were prepared from clubmoss, eagle's fern and horsetails, due to the lack of local rock alum. Woad was used for the blue colour. This dyestuff was presumably imported, because there is no ethnographic evidence of woad dyeing in Finland. Purple was obtained from lichens which produce orchil. Eventually the Middle Ages provided the dyeing industry with the boiling method, imported alum and completely new dyestuffs - such as yellow flavonoid dyes. Some of the dyestuff combinations detected in the Iron Age material were fascinating, especially those in the Viking Age woman's shawl found in Kaarina Kirkkomaki Grave 1. The textile differs from the other Finnish shawls, which are dark blue with bronze spiral ornamentation. The warp of the Kaarina Kirkkomaki shawl was dyed with red, condensed tannins and the weft purple with purple lichen orchil. A new reconstruction of this shawl, which has long been a focus of interest in Finnish textile archaeological research, was made.

Original languageEnglish
EditorsM Bravermanova, H Brezinova, J MalcolmDavies
PublisherTechnical University of Liberec
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)978-80-7494-397-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA4 Conference publication
EventTriannual North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles - Liberec, Czech Republic
Duration: 23 May 201726 May 2017
Conference number: 13


ConferenceTriannual North European Symposium for Archaeological Textiles
Abbreviated titleNESAT
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic


  • dyes
  • fermented tannins
  • lichen orchil
  • Viking Age
  • shawl
  • reconstruction


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