This talk will explore relationships between women and cloth in the North Atlantic over a thousand-year span from the Viking Age to the Early Modern period (AD750-AD1800) using archaeological and literary evidence. What can textiles tell us about North Atlantic societies?
The talk will start with an exploration of the tools used by Norse women, especially the warp-weighted loom that was used on nearly every farm for 800 years to produce cloth. I will then explore the social uses of textiles and women's roles in the economy of Iceland during the middle ages, where textiles were used as currency; in Norse Greenland, where women's innovations in textile production helped their colony buffer climate change.
Finally, I will consider whether weaving textiles was just a domestic activity that women did or whether it was also entangled in beliefs about women’s power and their involvement with mythical realms controlling fate, birth, and death.
About Michèle Hayeur Smith:
Michèle Hayeur Smith is an anthropological archaeologist with research interests in gender, textiles, dress, adornment and material culture studies. She has fieldwork experience in Iceland, and North America. Her doctoral research, conducted on jewelry and dress from Viking Age Icelandic burials, looked at items of dress for clues about the projection of social and cultural identity. Since 2010 she has been researching archaeological textiles from the North Atlantic from the Viking Age to the early 19th century. By examining hundreds of textiles from sites throughout the North Atlantic, particularly Iceland, her work offers new insights into women’s lives and women’s roles in economy, household organization, regional politics, international trade, and culture. Her book The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic
was published in November 2020 by University Press of Florida.