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Ancient Finnish Costumes.PDF


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From Grave Finds to Reconstructions

Finnish inhumation cemeteries
There are almost no pictures of Iron Age costumes in Finland. Accordingly only grave finds can
tell us how the Finns were dressed in prehistoric times. However, during nearly all of the Bronze
and Iron Ages, cremation was the prevailing form of burial in Finland, and therefore the first
information we can obtain from graves is from a fairly late phase of the Iron Age. Certainly, the
oldest known textile remains are from the 4th century A.D., but they are only small fragments
fastened on a spearhead found in the Kärsämäki cemetery in Turku. It is not possible to make
any reconstructions based on them.
About the year 600 A.D. inhumation burial became usual in Eura and Köyliö in Satakunta. At
the end of the 8th century this practice had extended to Yläne in northern Finland Proper, and it
spread also to the other neighbouring areas, but only sporadically. In Eura, Köyliö and Yläne,
however, the inhumation cemeteries were in continued use until the end of the heathen era.
Accordingly it is mostly from these parishes round Pyhäjärvi that we can get information about
dresses and their materials during the Merovingian and Viking periods.
From the 11th century onwards there are inhumation graves also from other parishes in
southwestern Finland, and from the next century there is also material from eastern Finland, from
Savo and Karelia. The dress fragments found in these graves are also important from the panEuropean point of view, because there are furnished graves as late as these only from a very few
areas in Europe and there are no costumes from that time in any private or museum collections.
Dress details have mostly been preserved in Finland because some garments have been
ornamented with small bronze spiral tubes sewn on to the fabrics. These spiral ornaments have
often been preserved, and their oxides have also conserved textiles. The spiral ornamentation is
richest in the garments found in the youngest graves, and therefore our knowledge about the
costumes of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries is most abundant. Finds like those from Yliskylä in
Perniö and Ristinpelto in Lieto, where textile fragments more than one metre long have been
preserved, are very unusual, however. In general only after a careful excavation, a detailed
documentation and many laboratory examinations can we get enough information about the
connections of the ornaments and spiral decorations.
The deceased have not always been dressed like living people. Sometimes the dead women have
been covered with their big mantles or they can have been wrapped up in them, although they
have otherwise been dressed in their best garments. The men on the other hand seem often to
have had the mantle on their shoulders just as it could have been worn. But although there were
many details in graves and they were in their proper places, it is a long way from the finding of
an inhumation grave to a reconstructed dress.

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Fig. 1