International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 509–528 | Cite as

“Some in Rags and Some in Jags and Some in Silken Gowns”: Textiles from Iceland’s Early Modern Period

  • Michèle Hayeur Smith


The Danish trade monopoly of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries resulted in the implementation of strict regulations and controls on textile production, the introduction of weaving workshops equipped with new horizontal looms, and a deliberate attempt to phase out the production of homespun cloth on the warp-weighted loom. What was the fate of homespun cloth in this era of introduced industrialization in Iceland? Archaeological textile collections from Iceland’s early modern period are abundant though understudied. This paper reports current research on these collections and suggests that homespun cloth did not die out in the late medieval period, but that it continued into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, declining slowly thereafter. Moreover, homespun cloth of the early modern period evolved into something that was structurally different than its earlier medieval version, possibly in response to increased climatic fluctuations during the Little Ice Age.


Early modern textiles Homespun cloth Imported cloth Little Ice Age 



This research was made possibly with funds from the National Science Foundation, Arctic Social Sciences, Polar Programs—award no.1023167, and with help from the following institutions and individuals: Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University; National Museum of Iceland; Fornleifastofnun Íslands; Department of Textiles, Design and Fashion Merchandising, University of Rhode Island; Gavin Lucas for kindly sharing the unpublished material from Skálholt; Kevin P. Smith, my husband, for all of his help and insights into the site of Gilsbakki, for his discussions and thoughts on the data and for having helped in the different stages of editing the paper; Guðrún Sveinbjarnardóttir for allowing me to work and publish material on Reykholt, Oscar Aldred for help with the Reykholt phasing and data, Margaret T. Ordoñez; Guðmundur Ólafsson for help with Bessastaðir; Lilja Árnárdóttir and the curatorial staff at the National Museum of Iceland for their help with accessing collections.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Haffenreffer Museum of AnthropologyBrown UniversitySt, BristolUSA

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