The Bag from Kyiv, Ukraine

When I was browsing through the literature, I came across the remains of a bag that seemed so unusual that I decided to describe it in a separate article. My hope is that it will gain more popularity among the reenactors and will help to better understand the topic of Eastern European organic material culture.

Circumstances of the find and its content

In the years 1997-1999, The Archaeological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (Інститут археології НАНУ) led an excavation of the premises of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Kiev, which discovered the burial site from 10th-11th century. At this point, we will only be interested in the tomb designated as 49 or A14 (Ivakin 2011: 34-35). It was a grave of a young woman aged 16-18, whose skeleton was partially preserved. The grave chamber had dimensions of 4 × 3.45 × 0.9 m, was reinforced with wooden planks inside and was oriented to the west. During the construction of the monastery in the 12th century, the grave was partially damaged.

The grave’s inventory consisted of more than 70 metal artifacts (gold, silver, bronze and iron), glass, wood and fabric remnants. On the skull, there were preserved remains of the headband with silver embroidery (width 1.5 cm). Right of it, there was a silver plate in the shape of a diamond. A necklace with 26 pieces of jewelry was stretched around the neck of the deceased, containing 19 glass beads, a gold wire ring and three silver pendants (diameter 2.4 cm) decorated with granulation in the middle. Closer to the edges of the necklace, there were two more silver and gilded pendants – former belt fittings with soldered eyelets, that were decorated with floral ornaments from the rear side. On the deceased’s chest, there were four pieces of silver jewelry linked by a chain, dominated by a round granular brooch of the Terslev type (3.9 cm diameter). A remains of decayed object, most likely a bag with two silver crosses, which will be examined separately, laid by the left elbow at waist heigh. Next to it, there was a knife with a handle wrapped in silver wire. Right of the deceased (at a distance of 0.7 m), a wooden box with fragments of iron fittings and 27 glass decorative plates was placed. The box contained scissors, tweezers, a copper alloy buckle, a copper alloy bowl, and glass beads. In the foundations of the monastery fence, two other beads were found, which probably also came from the grave (Ivakin – Kozubovskij 1999: 5-6; Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003a: 40; Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003b: 96–99; Ivakin 2005: 288-289; Ivakin 2011: 34-35).

The Old Russian crosses from graves are found almost exclusively in the elite women’s graves from the mid-10th century. Androshchuk interprets this fact as the buried women belonged to the retinue of Princess Olga, alongside whom they attended important negotiations with the Byzantine elites (Androshchuk 2013: 169-186). These negotiations, including their participants, are documented, as is the fact that crosses were given during masses, and it is not impossible that the crosses found in the graves come from Byzantium.

Diagram of the grave no. 49 / A14 from the Cathedral of St. Michael in Kiev.
Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7. In our opinion, the indicated reconstruction is wrong.

A selection of finds from grave no. 49 / A14 from the Cathedral of St. Michael in Kiev.
Ivakin 2011: Рис. 22, 26, 30-33, 35-38.

Drawn reconstruction of the equipment buried in the grave no. 49 / A14 of Cathedral of St. Michael in Kiev.
Source: Oleksii Malev.

The bag

The object that laid at the left elbow in the waist area is generally described as a bag (Androshchuk 2011: 81; Androschchuk – Zocenko 2012: 92; Androshchuk 2013: 182), less often as a wooden bowl (Ivakin 2011: 34-35) or reliquary (personal interview with Vera Viktorovna Pavlova). Upon closer examination of the organic parts, and especially when comparing with wooden vessels with a similar type of decoration (see Vlasatý 2020), we agree with Vsevolod Ivakin, the son of the archaeologist leading the expedition Hlib Ivakin, who interprets the remains as a bag (personal interview with Vsevolod Ivakin). In our opinion, the theory which considers fragments as remains of a book cannot be supported by any analogous example. In addition, the position in the wait area may indicate hanging on the belt. Therefore, we will treat the object as a bag in the following part of the work.

The silver fittings found in connection with the bag indicate the likely shape and construction. Let us now describe them in sequence:

  • cross-shaped fitting
    The bag included a silver fitting in the shape of a cross, corresponding to Staecker type 1.2.2 (Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012: 92; Staecker 1999: 91-96). The cross is decorated with punched decoration. The size of the fittings is 3 × 3 × 0.05 cm, while the arms are 0.7-1.2 cm wide. This fitting is with legs on the underside which have been fixed to the leather, the fragments of which are still preserved (as can be seen in Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012: 92). It can be assumed that the position of this fitting on the bag was central and that the fitting was not part of the fastening mechanism. A suitable place for such a fitting could be the center of the lid. One more cross was found in the bag, which is provided with an eye, and apparently was inside the bag.

The cross-shaped fitting.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7:21; Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012: Fig. 58.

  • arrow-shaped fitting
    Another piece of decoration is silver metal fitting in the shape of an arrow or a strap-end. The dimensions are approximately 2 × 0.9-1.2 cm, which is very similar to the cross arm. The fitting was fixed to the surface with five nails. In the middle of this fitting, there is a rectangular hole approximately 1 × 0.2 cm. It can be assumed that the position of the fittings was in the central line of the face side, at the same level as the cross-shaped fitting and the central arrow-shaped clamp, with which it formed an aesthetic and functional set. The arrow-shaped fitting and the central arrow-shaped clamp almost certainly formed the fastening system; in our opinion, this fitting was placed on the bottom of the bag just below the lid, which partially overlapped it. The main purpose of this fitting is to reinforce the stressed part of the bag.

The arrow-shaped fitting.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7.

  • central arrow-shaped clamp
    The third silver fitting is the largest arrow-shaped clamp, measuring approximately 1 × 0.9-1.2 cm, a width similar to the previous two fittings. Inside the fitting, there were organic fragments, especially leather, which was secured by five nails. The fragment of the preserved leather is straight, without curvature. It can be assumed that this fitting was a central ornament on the edge of the bag lid, and was in the same line as the cross-shaped fitting and arrow-shaped fitting. It is very likely that this fitting was involved in the fastening system. After closing the bag lid, the central clamp apparently partially covered the arrow-shaped fitting.

Central arrow-shaped clamp.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7.

  • small arrow-shaped clamps
    In the bag area, 19 silver fragments of small clamps were discovered, which could represent roughly 14 complete clamps. These clamps with irregular dimensions of about 0.7-1 × 0.7-1 cm enclose organic material, leather and textile, apparently coming from the bag lid. They probably accompanied the central arrow-shaped clamp. A fragment of the preserved leather found in clamps is straight, without curvature. One of the leather fragments kept two clamps close to each other, indicating that the clamps were not very spaced.

Small arrow-shaped clamps.
Source: Androshchuk 2011: Fig. 7.

Essential information from chemical analysis of organic residues is that the leather was dyed and that the bag contained silk. The leather described as blue or dark, while silk is Byzantine samite (Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003a: 42; Ivakin 2007: 189; Androshchuk 2011: 81). Dyed leather from the early Middle Ages is a rare phenomenon. It is caused not only by small number of analyzed leather, as dyed leather is absent in carefully studied collections (eg Cameron 2000: 6; Mould et al. 2003: 3220). The only discovery of dyed leather from Early Medieval Europe except the Caucasus are the red-dyed covers of the Anglo-Saxon Gospels – St Cuthbert Gospel and Codex Bonifatianus I (Cameron 2000: 6). Manuals for dyeing leather appear either in the fading ancient tradition, which was well-known and continued to be copied in the Early Middle Ages, or in manuscripts since the 12th century. In connection with our bag, the most important source is Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, which mentions the coloring red and black. The black was achieved with atramentum (atramentum sutorium). For the sake of completeness, we can add that Mappae clavicula provides various manuals for dyeing the leather purple, red and shades of green, while Stockholm papyrus provides a method of staining the leather to stabilize the color. The Norman manuscript British Library MS Cotton Titus D.XXIV from the late 12th century mentions dyeing red (Hunt 1995). Veterans in the field of historical reconstruction mention the coloring the leather dark using walnut hulls, vinegar and iron, which is simple and safe, compared to the period procedures.

Silk has been found in connection with the clamps and is therefore likely to be a decoration of the lid and not the content of the bag. The silk used in bag construction can be regarded as an exceptional feature. The closest analogy is the silk bag from Moshchevaya Balka that has the the front decorated with sewn leather applications (Orfinskaya 2001: Рис. 2.21). The assumption that Old Hungarian and Old Russian tarsoly bags applied silk was not possible to prove, but a combination of silk and leather could be found in period shoes, belts, saddles and caftans (personal discussion with János Mesteller). A shoe also found in Moshchevaya Balka has red-dyed leather and a silk hem (Jerusalimskaya 2012: Il. 137). If we expanded the search outside Europe, we can mention the bag stored in the Chinese National Silk Museum, which is dated to 10th-12th century. The rear side of the lid is lined with silk, that is attached with a silk hem (China National Silk Museum 2017). Bags made completely of silk were used in a wide area from China to the Caucasus and rare find are also known from Europe (personal discussions with János Mesteller). In general, two possible options are acceptable, namely that the lid has been covered with silk from the top, or silk has been sewn on the underside of the lid. It is possible that the silk preserved inside the clamps comes from a narrow strip forming the hem.

If we put together the information we have mentioned so far, the following two schematic variants arise. They take into account the way of attaching the individual components, the shape of the lid given by the leather fragments, the number of components and the used materials.

Suggested drawn reconstruction of the bag from the grave no. 49 / A14 of Kiev.
Made by Tomáš Cajthaml.

In the mentioned variants, we do not propose a fastening system that is questionable. Due to the absence of a buckle in the bag area (the buckle was found in the box on the opposite side of the grave), it is evident that the bag was not fastened in this way. In addition, the type of bag that uses the buckle is characterized only by riveted fittings without clamps, as can be for example seen in the tarsola found in the grave of A12 from the same burial ground (Ivakin 2011: Рис. 29; Makarov 2012: 323, Рис. 18). Significantly higher similarity can be found in two bag remains from the chamber grave 2 of Pskov. This grave, which is an excellent analogy to the grave no. 49 / A14 from Kyiv, contains fragments of two bags, one consisting of seven clamps, the other consisting of two clamps and one central fitting (Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. 23, 26). The center fitting of the latter one is remarkably similar to our arrow-shaped fitting, but since it has no pair fitting, its position on the bag is harder to determine. However, it is highly likely that it participated in the fastening system and that it strengthened the stressed part of the bag. Another example of the bag that had central fittings and apparently had no buckle is the bag from Islandbridge, Ireland (Harrison – Ó Floinn 2014: 178-180). The finds from Kiev, Pskov and Islandbridge are characterized by fittings with central holes, but the Kiev piece is unique in its vertical position, making it impossible to find parallels.

We will propose four theoretical ways to solve the fastening, and we would like to ask the reenactors if they could try and share their experiences. We will gladly share any attempt.

  1. variant: from the rear side of the lid, from the space of the central arrow-shaped clamp, a narrow strip of leather ran out, passing through a slider made of very thin leather that came out through the arrow-shaped fitting.
  2. variant: two ends of the strap protrude from the inside of the bag through the arrow-shaped fitting, one being pushed through an opening in the central arrow-shaped clamp and tied to the other end, which until then remains free.
  3. variant: a strap protrudes from the inside of the bag through the arrow-shaped fitting, which is pushed through an opening in the arrow-shaped central clamp and a knot is formed thereon.
  4. variant: in the unfilled space in the central arrow-shaped clamp, there is a strap that extends out on both sides, passes through the leather slider in the arrow-shaped fitting and is then knotted.

Tarsoly bag from the grave no. A12, Kyiv.
Ivakin 2011: Рис. 29; Makarov 2012: 323, Рис. 18

Seven clamps from Pskov and their interpretation.
Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. 23; interpretation done by Makar Babenko.

Two clamps and central fitting from Pskov and their interpretation.
Yakovleva 2015: 70, Cat. 26; interpretation created by Tomáš Cajthaml.

Acknowledgments and conclusion

The Kiev bag is an extremely valuable artifact that not only expands the mosaic of purses, bags, satchels and wallets known from the Viking Age, but suggests previously unknown methods of leather decoration and combining leather with silk, a practice that has only been speculated in European context. In terms of costly decorating, it ranks among the top finds. Another positive aspect of the find is that  t comes from a well-documented grave. This find has a great potential to influence the reenactor community, but also to understand the Christianization processes taking place in Kievan Rus.

Finally, I would like to thank Roman Král from the workshop King’s Craft, who, despite my endless questions, intensively consulted the find. My thanks also deserve Vsevolod Ivakin and Oleksii Malev that provided me with the important literature. In the last, most honest place, I would like to pay tribute to Tomáš Cajthaml, who quickly and unselfishly created great graphics, thanks to which this artifact can be appreciated by people from all over the world.

Here we will finish this article. Thank you for your time and we look forward to any feedback. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.


Androshchuk, Fedir (2011). Symbols of Faith or Symbols of Status? Christian Objects in Tenth-Century Rus´. In: Garipzanov, I. – Tolochko, O. (eds.). Early Christianity on the Way from the Varangians to the Greeks, Kiev, 70-89.

Androshchuk, Fedir (2013). Vikings in the east: essays on contacts along the road to Byzantium (800 – 1100), Uppsala.

Androshchuk – Zocenko 2012 = Андрощук Ф. O. – Зоценко В. Скандинавские древности Южной Руси: каталог, Paris, 2012.

Cameron, Esther A. (2000). Sheaths and Scabbards in England AD 400-1100. BAR British Series 301, Oxford.

Harrison, Stephen H. – Ó Floinn, Raghnall (2014). Viking Graves and Grave-Goods in Ireland. Medieval Dublin Excavations 1962-81, Series B, Dublin.

Hunt, Tony (1995). Early Anglo-Norman Receipts for Colours. In: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 58, 203-209

China National Silk Museum (2017). Embroidered leather bag with jin-silk and damask hems, Accession No. 3433. In: China National Silk Museum. Available from:

Ivakin 2005 = Ивакин Г.Ю. Погребения X — первой половины XI вв. из раскопок Михайловского Златоверхого монастыря (1997–1999) // Русь в IXXIV векахВзаимодействие Севера и Юга. М., 2005, стр. 287–303.

Ivakin, Hlib (2007). Excavations at St. Michael Golden Domes Monastery in Kiev. In: Aibabin, A. – Ivakin, H. (eds.). Kiev – Cherson – Constantinople, Kiev, Simferopol, and Paris: Ukrainian National Committee for Byzantine Studies, pp. 177–220.

Ivakin 2011 = Ивакин В. Г. Киевские погребения Х в. // Stratum plus № 5. 2011, стр. 1-44.

Ivakin – Kozjuva 2003a = Івакін Г., Козюба В. Нові поховання Х – ХІ ст. Верхнього Києва (з розкопок Архітектурно-археологічної експедиції 1997 – 1999 рр.)  // Дружинні старожитності Центрально-Східної Європи VІІІ–Х ст.: матеріали Міжнародного польового археологічного семінару, 17-20 липня 2003. Чернігів: Сіверянська думка, 2003, стр. 38–50.

Ivakin – Kozljuva 2003b = Івакін Г. Ю., Козюба В. К., Поляков С. Є.. Поховання Х—ХІ ст. В: Нікітенко Н. М. (відп. ред.). Нові дослідження давніх пам’яток Києва. Київ: Софія Київська, 2003, стр. 93—103

Ivakin – Kozubovskij 1997 = Івакін Г. Ю.; Козубовський Г. А.; Козюба В. К.; Поляков С. Є. Науковий звіт про архітектурно археологічні дослідження комплексу Михайлівського Золотоверхого монастиря в м. Києві у 1996—1997 рр. // НА ІА НАНУ, 1997/103.

Jerusalimskaya 2012 = Иерусалимская, А.А. (2012). Мощевая Балка. Необычный археологический памятник на Северокавказском шёлковом пути, СПб.

Makarov et al 2012 = Русь в IX–X веках: археологическая панорама / Ин-т археологии РАН; отв. ред. Н. А. Макаров. – Москва; Вологда: Древности Севера, 2012.

Mould, Q., Carlisle, I, Cameron, E. (2003). Craft Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. The small finds 17/16, York.

Orfinskaya 2001 = Орфинская, О. В. (2001). Текстиль VIII-IX вв. из коллекции Карачаево-Черкесского музея: технологические особенности в контексте культуры раннесредневековой Евразии, Москва.

Staecker, Jörn (1999). Rex regum et dominus dominorum. Die wikingerzeitlichen Kreuz- und Kruzifixanhänger als Ausdruck der Mission in Altdänemark und Schweden, Stockholm.

Vlasatý, Tomáš (2020). Lathed Tableware with Metal Brim. In: Projekt Forlǫg : Reenactment a věda. Available from:

Yakovleva 2015 = Яковлева, Е. А. Камерное погребение 1 // Древнерусский некрополь Пскова X – начала XI в.: В 2 т. Т. 2. Камерные погребения древнего Пскова X в. (по материалам археологических раскопок 2003 – 2009 гг. у Старовознесенского монастыря), СПб., 2015, стр. 28–83.

Inspiration #3, A Woman From Birka

The third episode of inspromat is reserved for rich female costume from Birka. This time we will look at the costume of Russian reenactor and my friend, Lida Gubareva.

Lida sets her costume in the first half of the 10th century in Birka. Most of the equipment consists of replicas of items from grave Bj 965, which contains a coin, so the grave can be dated after the year 913. Despite that, Lida does not consider her costume ideal for the reconstruction of clothing from Birka, because the equipment incorporates also replicas of objects that were found elsewhere. Lida also told me that she is making a new caftan and overdress, and apologized for not knowing all the numbers of the graves, because she reconstructs three periods at the same time.

On the photographs, we can see three different underdresses that have a shape of a simple tunic. The first one (blue) is made of 100% wool woven in diamond twill. It is dyed with indigo and has hems of silk twill, whose warp is dyed with buckthorn and weft with indigo. Silk panel at the neck is decorated with two tablet woven stripes made of silver and silk, which are inspired by tablet woven strip from grave Bj 965. Second underlying dress (yellow) is made of polychrome silk and is hemmed with blue silk. The hems have tablet woven stripes as well. Third underlying dress (green) is made od simple linen and hemmed with silk which is dyed with madder and soda.

Overdress (apron, hangerock) have trapezoidal shape and are made of 100% woolen twill, dyed with indigo. Over these clothes, Lida wears crimson-red caftan, which is made of 100% wool, woven in 2/2 twill, dyed with madder. The weft is slightly darker than the warp. The caftan is hemmed with Sasanian silk with motifs of medallions depicting lions and phoenixes. Her second caftan, the yellow one, is linen and lined with silk. It has a hem of polychrome silk and beaver pelt.

Oval brooches are replicas of the find from several graves in Birka, including Bj 965. All other bucklesnecklaces and pendantsear spoon or needle-case are replicas of finds from Birka. Two exceptions are the Friesian comb with a case and crosses that are inspired by the find from Rügen. The costume is complemented by scarf with a knot, which is an interpretation of “knot” that can be seen on Valkyrie figures from Scandinavia.

I would like to thank Lidia Gubareva for granting me permission to use her photographs and for detailed description of her costume.

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.

Inspiration #1, A Woman From Birka

This article will start a series of articles that will focus on concrete costumes. The aim of this series is to inspire reenactent audience.

We will start with my Belarusian acquaintance Julia Kovalevskaja, who was the first to provide her photos and description of her costume. Julia’s costume represents a rich woman from Birka in the second half of the 10th century. She considers her attempt to be a reconstruction.

Costume consists of linen underwear (there are three in the pictures – white, blue and light purple), which is closed by a replica of the brooch from the grave Bj 642 at the neck. Over the underwear, Julia wears a blue woolen apron (hangerock) woven in diamond twill weave. The apron is decorated with decorative wool laces along the seams. On the linen loops, there are two oval brooches type P55, which were discovered in graves Bj 865, 959 and 960. Julia wears a green woolen caftan woven in diamond twill weave, which is lined with linen and closed by a replica of the trefoil brooch from the grave Bj 954, over the outer dress. In some photos we may notice a fur vest, which has no background and comes exclusively from Julia’s imagination. The uppermost layer is a dark green woolen shawl woven in a complex diamond twill weave. On the head we can see woolen (diamond twill and lined with linen) hood or woolen or silk caps with woolen / linen cords.

Accessories include a bone comb with a case (which is not based on Birka material) and a knife, both hinged on brooches. There are many silver, gold and glass beads around her neck and between the brooches, which are based on various finds from Birka. On a separate cord, she wears a replica of the cross from the grave Bj 660.

Author: Xenia Luchkova.

Author: Xenia Luchkova.

Author: Xenia Luchkova.

Author: Xenia Luchkova.

Author: Xenia Luchkova.

Author: Olga Tarasevich

Author: Olga Tarasevich

Author: Bouzin.

Author: Allbelphoto.

Author: Allbelphoto.

Author: Allbelphoto.

Author: Allbelphoto.

Author: Allbelphoto.

 I would like to thank Julia Kovalevskaja for granting me permission to use her photographs and for detailed description of her costume. 

I hope you liked reading this article. If you have any question or remark, please contact me or leave a comment below. If you want to learn more and support my work, please, fund my project on Patreon or Paypal.

Scandinavian cloak pins with miniature weathervanes


During my research work, I have long been coming across an unusual type of artefacts, which are being described as miniature weathervanes (Swedish: miniatyrflöjel, miniflöjel, German: Miniaturwetterfahne). After many years, I have decided to take a deep look into these interesting objects and provide the readers with thorough analysis, comments and further references.

Finds description

At the moment, I am aware of eight more or less uniform miniature weathervanes, originating from seven localities. Let us take a detailed look at each of them:

  • Svarta jorden, Birka, Sweden
    At the end of the 19th century, one miniature weathervane was found in the Black Earth (located on Björko) during the excavations led by archaeologist Hjalmar Stolpe. It is 45 mm long and 35 mm wide (Salin 1921: 3, Fig. 4; Sörling 2018: 59). The material is gilded bronze (Lamm 2002: 36, Bild 4a). Currently, the item is stored in The Swedish History Museum under the catalogue number 5208:188; the on-line version of the catalogue also mentions a presence of 85 mm long pole (stång).

    terature: Salin 1921; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Sörling 2018; Thunmark-Nylén 2006; catalogue SHM.

The miniature weathervane from Birka. Source: Salin 1921: Fig. 4; catalogue SHM.

  • Tingsgården, Rangsby, Saltvik, Ålandy
    Most likely in 1881 in Tingsgården, a barrow was found on the land of Ålandian landlord Robert Mattsson, whene he took it apart to use the materials for landscaping. Inside of the barrow, he found a wooden riveted coffin with remnants of coal, bones and an iron object. An archaeological research was conducted in the summer of 1903 by Björn Cederhvarf from The National Museum of Finland, who documented the find and transported it to the museum in Helsinki. The landlord’s son made yet another discovery in the barrow’s ground – a damaged bronze item with stylised animal ornament – a miniature weathervane which was 52 mm long, 37,5 mm wide and weighed 17,6 grams. To this day, the object is stored in The National Museum of Finland, designated by inventory number 4282:13. The Åland Museum only displays a very successful replica (Salin 1921: 20, Fig. 21; Lamm 2002: Bild 4c; Lamm 2004). In the museum, the object is displayed together with a pole , which can be seen here.

    : Salin 1921; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

A miniature weathervane from Tingsgården. Source: Lamm 2002: Bild 4c; Lamm 2004: Fig. 1.

  • Gropstad, Syrholen, Dala-Floda, Dalarna, Sweden
    Supposedly in 1971, a highly damaged cremation burial was uncovered near Gropstad at Dala-Floda, containing only two fragmentary casts of miniature weathervanes (Frykberg 1977: 25-30). Both were made of bronze and vary in shape, level of conservation and decoration. One of them does not retain pole sockets, has more significant tassels and is of Borre design. The other has pole sockets, but lacks the tassels – instead, it has perforation, which could had been used for tassel attachment – and is decorated with simple concentric circles. Currently, the weathervanes are stored in Dalarnas Museum in Falun, Sweden.

    : Frykberg 1977; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

Gropstad weathervanes. Source: Lamm 2002: Bild 4e-f.

  • Häffinds, Burs, Bandlunde, Gotland
    Another miniature weathervane was found during excavation of a Viking age marketplace near Häffinds on the eastern coast of Gotland (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 366-367, Abb. III:40:7:I). The excavation was then led by Göran Burenhult from the Stockholm University and the weathervane was the most interesting item found during the work. The object is made of bronze, measures 53 mm × 42 mm (Thunmark-Nylén 2000: 92) or 54 mm × 43 mm (Lamm 2002: 39, Bild 4g; Lamm 2003: 60). It weighs 26 grams (Lamm 2002: 39). During that time, this particular weathervane brought interest mainly due to having been the first one differentiating from the Birka and Tingsgården finds: it has three pole sockets, the yard ends with animal head terminal and the tassels are pointed.

    : Brandt 1986; Edgren 1988; Thunmark-Nylén 2000; Brandt 2002; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

Häffinds weathervane. Source: Thunmark-Nylén 2006: Abb. III:40:7:I; Lamm 2002: Bild 4g.

  • Söderby, Lovö, Uppland, Sweden
    A completely shape-identical bronze weathervane was found in spring of 2002 during excavation in Söderby, Sweden, lead by Bo Petré. It was unearthed in a particularly interesting cremation grave A 37 – it seems the grave was deliberately dug within a Bronze Age barrow, and the dead (presumed male) was laid on a bear fur along with dogs, a horse, a chest, a long knife, a silver-posament decorated clothing, two oriental silver coins from 9th century, a comb, a whetstone, two ceramic cups and an iron necklace with a hammer pendant and then cremated (Petré 2011: 60-61). The weathervane is 48 mm long, 37 mm wide and weighs 19,9 grams. Three pole sockets hold a bronze circular shaft, which is broken on both ends (Lamm 2002: 39). The grave has been dated to 10th century (Lamm 2002: 39). Currently, the item is stored in The Swedish History Museum under catalogue number 26192 (F2).

    : Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006; Petré 2011; catalogue SHM.

Söderby weathervane. Source: catalogue SHM.

  • Novoselki, Smolensk, Russia
    After the Söderby weathervane find, Jan Peder Lamm, the author of an article about miniature weathervanes, received a message of yet another object from Russian archaeologist Kirill Michailov of the IIMK Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences. The miniature weathervane was excavated in Novoselki village in Smolensk area. The message also included a drawing, produced by Mr. Michailov himself after the find in 1996. The drawing shows that the item is the same type like the Häffinds and Söderby finds, though differentiating in the number of pole sockets – having only two instead of three and mounted with an iron shaft. Dr. Lamm stated (Lamm 2002: 40; Lamm 2003: 61) that the find originates from the grave nr. 4, which was marked as incorrect after the publication of E. A. Schmidt’s find in 2005. Schmidt (Schmidt 2005: 196, Il. 11:2) claims that the miniature weathervane was found in the grave nr. 6, along with a spearhead, a knife and a ceramic cup. The object was depicted with a long needle pin and a ring in the form of clothing pin. Personal interviews conducted with archaeologists Sergei Kainov (State Historical Museum of Russia), Kirill Mikhailov (Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russia) and jeweller Vasily Maisky indicate that Schmidt’s drawing is a reconstruction and that the weathervane (which is now stored in The Smolensk State Museum-Preserve under inventory number 23656/1-9) is broken to pieces and lacks the central part with the ring. Despite that, there is no reason not to trust in Schmidt’s reconstruction; it only means that not all of the pieces of the original find are on display.

    Literature: Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Schmidt 2005; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

A drawing of the Novoselki weathervane. Source: Kirill Michailov; Lamm 2004: Fig. 7.

The miniature weathervane from Novoselki. Source: Vasilij “Gudred” Maiskij.

A drawing of the weathervane from Novoselki. Source: Schmidt 2005: 196, Il. 11:2.

  • Menzlin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany
    During the autumn of 2002, the International Sachsensymposion (Internationales Sachsensymposion 2002) was organised at the Schwerin castle, where Dr. Lamm held a speech on then newly excavated Söderby and Novoselki weathervanes. After the presentation, he was informed by Friedrich Lüth about yet another, similar object found nearby, at the Viking age trading centre Menzlin. The very same day, Mr. Lamm went to see the find that was deposited in a special showcase in Menzlin, which is used for displaying newly excavated items from the area. He acknowledged that the item is in fact a miniature weathervane and is very similar to the Birka and Tingsgården finds (Lamm 2003). The weathervane was probably excavated in 1999 and published the next year (Schirren 2000: 472, Abb. 136:1). As far as we can tell from the detailed photos, it is about 50 mm long and 38 mm wide.

    : Schirren 2000; Ekberg 2002; Lamm 2002; Lamm 2003; Lamm 2004; Thunmark-Nylén 2006.

Menzlin weathervane. Source: Lamm 2003: Abb. 1.

Looking at the finds, we can clearly define two standardized types of the miniature weathervanes – the “Birka type” and the “Häffinds type” – along with the unusual and atypic pieces (Gropstad). Next, we will take a closer look at the presumed function of these objects and the symbolism of miniature weathervanes in Old-Norse culture.

Map of the miniature weathervane finds mentioned in the article. Source: Lamm 2004: Fig. 2.

The function of miniature weathervanes

Jan Peder Lamm had three theories on the possible function of miniature weathervanes. According to him, they were mainly a status symbols and pieces of artistic value. At the same time, he held the opinion of the objects being a part of boat-models, similar to ship-shaped candlesticks (Lamm 2002: 40; Lamm 2003: 61; Lamm 2004: 138), which we know from Norwegian church environment of 12th and 13th century (Blindheim 1983: 96, Fig. 7). The third supposed function was in a seafaring naviagion tool – Mr. Lamm suggested the weathervanes could had been used to help with determining angular height of astronomical objects. This theory was pursued before Lamm by Engström and Nykänen (Engström – Nykänen 1996) but was denoted as surreal and inconclusive (Christensen 1998).

As far as we can tell, the theory of boat models does not fit most of the listed finds. The boat-shaped candlestick platforms are at least two centuries younger and we have only one pair-find of the weathervanes from Gropstad. Thus, it is more probable that the Viking-Age miniature weathervanes were a part of clothing pins, as can be seen at the example from Novoselki. It seems that the poles were narrowed on the inserting part, while having the tip widened and flattened. Below the weathervane, there was a eyelet for attaching a string, which was used for fixing the pin. This method was most likely used for cloak fastening. The standardized look can indicate a centralized manufacture and distribution via for example gift-giving.

Cloak pins with miniature weathervanes made by Vasili “Gudred” Maisky.

Weathervane symbolism

The literature on miniature weathervanes was to a major extent focused on symbolism that was presumed the items had. From the era between 1000-1300 AD, we know of at least five complete Scandinavian weathervanes and several of their fragments – all of which were made from gilded high-percentage copper (Blindheim 1983: 104-105). That is in compliance with literary sources, which place gilded weathervanes (oldnorse: veðrviti) at the bow of the war ships of important personas (Blindheim 1983: 93; Lamm 2003: 57). The bow-situated weathervanes can also be found in 11th-13th century iconography, while in the older iconography, the weathervanes can also be found on masts (Blindheim 1983: 94-98; Lamm 2004: 140; Thunmark-Nylén 2006: 367). Aside of that, we also have several instances of the weathervane motive used on metal applications of horse harnesses, pendants and – as discussed above – as clothes pins, which are very faithful miniatures of the genuine ship weathervanes.

Scandinavian weathervanes and their fragments, 1000-1300 AD.

From the upper-left: Källunge weathervane, Heggen weathervane, Söderal weathervane, Tingelstad weathervane, Høyjord weathervane, a horse figurine from the Lolland weathervane. Source: Blindheim 1983: Figs. 1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 20.

Selection of miniature weathervanes depicted in iconography, 800-1300 AD.

From the left: Sparlösa runestone, Stenkyrka runestone, Bergen engraving, engravings from churches in Borgund, Urnes and Kaupanger. Source: Lamm 2004: Fig. 10; Blindheim 1983: Figs. 8, 10, 11, 12.

Horse harness fittings in a shape of weathervane, Borre and Gnezdovo.
Source: Myhre – Gansum 2003: 27; Lamm 2004: Fig. 9; catalogue Unimus.

Norwegian church boat-shaped candlesticks with weathervanes, 1100-1300 AD.

The weathervanes first started to appear on bow of the ships as early as 11th century, when they began to replace the wooden heads. Their function did not change though – the weathervanes were also removable, and the animals depicted on them were meant to frighten any chaotic agents dwelling along the journey. At the same time, the weathervane posed as a revering representation of the ship’s owner and thus presented a clearly distinguishable symbol. It is often stated that the function of weathervanes changed throughout the following ages, finding the usage on church buildings. However, according to Martin Blindheim (1983: 107-108), the old Norwegian military service laws mention that important ship equipment was stored in churches, and while the rest of the equipment (sails, ropes) fell victim to the passing of time, the weathervanes survived and became a permanent property of the churches. The connection of a church and a ship in naval-oriented Scandinavia is also backed up by the church boat-shaped candlesticks.

At the very least we can say that during the Viking Age, the weathervane was perceived as a property of the ship’s owner and as a precious symbol referring to naval activity and personal reputation. Not every ship owner could afford such an accessory though – the weathervane was undoubtedly limited only to a very small group of the richest, who owned huge and top-grade equipped vessels. The tradition of using weathervanes was so anchored in Scandinavian culture, that it had a substantial effect on weathervane usage even in different parts of Europe – e.g. France where the French word for “weathervane” (girouette) originates from Old Norse (Lindgrén – Neumann 1984).


Blindheim 1983 = Blindheim, Martin (1983). De gyldne skipsfløyer fra sen vikingtid. Bruk og teknikk. Viking XLVI, Oslo, 85-111.

Brandt 1986 = Brandt, Bengt (1986). Bandlundeviken. En vikingatida handelsplats på Gotland. Grävningsrapport och utvärdering, Stockholm.

Brandt 2002 = Brandt, Bengt (2002). Bandlundeviken – a Viking trading centre on Gotland. In: Burenhult, G. (ed). Remote Sensing, vol. 2, Theses and Papers in North-European Archaeology 13:b, Stockholm, 243-311.

Edgren 1988 = Edgren, Torsten (1988). Om leksaksbåtar från vikingatid och tidig medeltid. In: Steen Jensen, J. (ed.), Festskrift til Olaf Olsen på 60-års dagen den 7. juni 1988, København, 157-164.

Ekberg 2002 = Ekberg, Veronica (2002). På resa till en annan värld. Vikingatida miniatyrflöjlar. C-uppsats i arkeologi, Stockholms universitet, Stockholm.

Engström – Nykänen 1996 = Engström, Jan – Nykänen, Panu (1996). New interpretations of Viking Age weathervanes. In: Fornvännen 91:3, 137-142.

Frykberg 1977 = Frykberg, Yvonne (1977). Syrholen i Dala-Floda socken. Seminarieuppsats i arkeologi, Stockholms universitet, Stockholm.

Christensen 1998 = Christensen, Arne Emil (1998). The Viking weathervanes were not navigation instruments! In: Fornvännen 93, 202-203.

Lamm 2002 = Lamm, Jan Peder (2002). De havdjärvas märke – om vikingatidens skeppsflöjlar. In: Gotländskt arkiv 74, 33-42.

Lamm 2003 = Lamm, Jan Peder (2003). Die wikingerzeitliche Miniaturwetterfahne aus Menzlin, Lkr. Ostvorpommern, und verwandte Funde. In: Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Jahrbuch, 50, 57-63.

Lamm 2004 = Lamm, Jan Peder (2004). Vindflöjlar : liten klenod med stort förflutet : den vikingatida flöjeln från Saltvik aktualiserad av nya fynd. In: Åländsk odling 61, 129-143.

Lindgrén – Neumann 1984 = Lindgrén, Susanne – Neumann, Jehuda (1984). Viking weather-vane practices in medieval France. In: Fornvännen 78, 197-203.

Myhre – Gansum 2003 = Myhre, Bjørn – Gansum, Terje (2003). Skipshaugen 900 e. Kr. : Borrefunnet 1852-2002, Borre.

Petré 2011 = Petré, Bo (2011). Fornlämning RAÄ 28, Söderby, Lovö sn, Up. Gravfält från vendeltid och vikingatid samt några gravar och boplatslämningar från bronsålder. Lovö Archaeological Reports and Studies Nr 10 År 2011, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University.

Salin 1921 = Salin, Bernhard (1921). Förgylld flöjel från Söderala kyrka. In: Fornvännen 16, 1-22.

Schirren 2000 = Schirren, Michael C. (2000). Menzlin, Lkr. Ostvorpommern. In: Bodendenkmalpflege in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Bd. 47, Jahrbuch 1999, Lübstorf, 472.

Schmidt 2005 = Шмидт, Е.А. (2005). Курганный могильнику пос. Новоселки // Смоленские древности, Вып. 4, Смоленск, 146–218.

Sörling 2018 = Sörling, Erik (2018). Fynden från ”Svarta jorden” på Björkö : från Hjalmar Stolpes undersökningar, Katalog, Uppsala.

Thunmark-Nylén 2000 =Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2000). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands IV:1–3. Katalog. Stockholm.

Thunmark-Nylén 2006 = Thunmark-Nylén, Lena (2006). Die Wikingerzeit Gotlands III: 1–2 : Text, Stockholm.

The Length of Early Medieval Belts

There are some “truths” in reenactment that are not questioned even though they should be. These are called “reenactorism” and engaged by both newbies and veterans. In this article we will show one of these, the myth of a long belt in Early medieval Europe, following the work done by German reenactor Christopher Kunz.

It is fully evident from the preserved material that there was a number of approaches to belt wearing in the Early Middle ages. These approaches originated alongside cultural environment and local development, social ranking, gender and usage method. The assumption of using a uniform belt type with the same width and length is wrong. On the initiative of beginning reenactors who often raise questions about belt length, in this article we will try to map the legth of men’s leather belts according to iconography and finds in burial complexes.

Fig. 1: Grave no. 59 from the Haithabu-Flachgräberfeld burial site
Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010b: 308, Taf. 10.

Simple belt with a short end (up to approx. 20 cm)

This form best resembles present belts, which are manufactured approximately 15 cm longer than the waistline. In seven graves from Birka, Sweden (488, 750, 761, 918, 949, 1030, 1076) the buckles are no more than 10 cm far from each other (Arbman 1943) and similar positions could be found throughout Europe – we can mention Great Moravian (i.e. Kalousek 1973: 33, Fig. 13) or Danish graves (Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010b: 301, Taf. 3). There are no belts with hanging strap-ends in Early medieval iconography, which is rather schematic than detailed. Belts are scarcely visible in painted iconography as they usually seem to be overlapped by pleated upper tunics, which can be interpreted as an element of fashion. As a result the belt looks like a narrow horizontal line.

There is a certain contradiction between some burial positions and strap-end decor, where some of Early medieval belts had strap-ends that hung down when threaded through the buckle. The most graphic evidence comes from depictions of people and animals which can be seen on the strap-ends and placed lengthwise. In some cases, there are figures of naked men depicted on the strap-ends, which could imply that the hanging end could reach down to the genitals and symbolically represent or emphasize them (Thomas 2000: Fig. 3.16, 3.27). In the listing below we will attempt to suggest several manners of tying these belts.

Fig. 2: A selection of painted iconography of 9-11th century depicting a belt hidden in tunic pleats.
From the left: British Lib. MS Arundel 60, 4r, 11th century; BNF Lat. 1, 423r, 9th century; British Lib. MS Stowe 944, 6r, 11th century; XIV.A.13, 29v, 11th century

Fig. 3: Strap-ends depicting a naked man.
Thomas 2000: Fig. 3.16, 3.27.

Fig. 4: A rare depiction of hanging strap-end in Western Europe iconography. Manuscript: Latin 1141, Fol. 14, 9th century.

  • Loose end
    The simplest form is represented by a belt worn in its nearly maximal length. The end is then short enough not to obstruct manual labour and because it copies the belt, it can be hidden in a pleated tunic. Depictions of loose belt ends can be quite typically observed in 13th and 14th century. Moreover, we know a belt from Early medieval Latvia which had a metal ring at its end, used to grapple on a buckle tongue. The very same method was is also known from Čingul mound, Ukraine, from 13th century (Отрощенко – Рассамакин 1983: 78).

Fig. 5: Reconstruction of belts from 400-700 AD in Zollernalb region, Germany.
Schmitt 2005: Abb. 15.

Fig. 6: Reconstruction of Haithabu type belts.
Arents – Eisenschmidt 2010b: 140, Abb. 61.

  • Tucked behind the belt
    Another simple way of wearing a belt is tucking its end behind the already fastened part of the belt. We have at least one piece of evidence of this wearing from Anglo-Saxon England, where a belt passed through the buckle, flipped back and end tucked behind itself was documented (Watson 2006: 6-8). This forms a perpendicular line on the belt and keeps the face side of strap-end exposed. In case of pleated tunic covering the belt it can be easily adjusted to form a line.

Fig. 7: Strap-end being flipped back after going through the buckle and tucked behind the already fastened belt. Shrublands Quarry, Watson 2006: Fig. 6.

  • Tucked in a slider
    Metal belt sliders are very scarce in terms of archeological material. One of this kind was found within Gokstad Barrow (C10439) and adjusted to fit a strap-end from the same grave (Nicolaysen 1882: 49, Pl: X:11). Another slider was presumably found in Birka grave no. 478 (Abrman 1943: 138) and three more made of sheet bronze were apparently found in Kopparvik, Gotland (Toplak 2016: 126). According to sliders usually appearing in relation to spurs or garters where they are 2-3 centimeters wide (i.e. Andersen 1993: 48, 69; Thomas 2000: 268; Skre 2011: 72-74), we can assume that if the sliders were used with belts more, we would be able to detect them more easily. It is possible that they corroded over time, that organic sliders were used too or that they will be found during a more detailed research. Generally we can assume that the sliders were used in cases where the buckles did not include holding plates – in opposite cases the holding plates would not be visible after using the slider.

Fig. 8: Reconstruction of the belt from grave no. 478 at Birka.
Abrman 1943: 138, Abb. 83.

Fig. 9: Attempt for a reconstruction of the belt from Birka grave no. 949 applying a leather slider.
Author: Sippe Guntursson.

  • Puncturing two holes
    A relatively elegant reenactor’s solution is to puncture two consecutive holes and tuck the belt behind its buckle. All the belt’s components therefore remain visible. This solution was documented in case of at least two archeological finds from Britain and Belgium, 6th-7th century. (De Smaele et al. in pressWatson 2002: 3). The same system is known from Early medieval Latvia. In case of pleated tunic covering the belt it can be easily adjusted to form a line.

Fig. 10: Puncturing two holes that enables threading the strap-end behind a buckle.
Author: Erik Panknin.

  • Attaching by a thong
    Another aesthetical, yet undocumented manner of attaching a belt is adding a thong which holds the buckle’s tongue while the strap-end continues further behind the buckle. We have no evidence for this manner.

Fig. 11: Fixing the buckle with a thong attached to the belt. An unfounded hypothesis.
Author: L’Atelier de Micky.

  • Tucking into a buckle slot
    Buckles having a rectangular slot aside from the typical loop are very common in Eastern-European regions. After fastening the belt using the loop’s tongue, the strap-end could be tucked into this slot and hanged downwards. In case of pleated tunic covering the belt it can be easily adjusted to form a line.

Fig. 12: Reconstruction of the belt from Berezovec barrow.
Степанова 2009: 250, рис. 18.

  • Knot on a belt
    The most frequent solution among reenactors is undoubtedly a knot performed like this: after going through the buckle, the strap-end is tucked behind the belt from below and then passed through the resulting loop. This means achieving a perpendicular line on the belt and keeping the strap-end’s face side visible. This knot-tying, although with much shorter belt than standardly used in today’s reenactment, could be found in France during the Merovingian age (France-Lanlord 1961). With a high probability, the same solution was found in a grave from St Michael’s Church graveyard in Workington, England. Knots were often worn in 13th and 14th century.

Fig. 13: Reconstruction of a Merovingian belt from St. Quentin.
France-Lanlord 1961.

Composite belt with a long end

Some of the Eastern-European Early medieval decorated belts are manufactured in a more complex way, having one or more longer ends. In case of a belt constructed to have more ends, one of these ends – usually the shorter one – is designed to be fixed by the buckle, while the others are either tagged on or formed by the outer layer of two-layered belt. Long ends of these costly belts are designed for double wrapping, tucking into a slider or behind the belt. The length of the ends is not standardized, however we are unable to find any belt that would reach below its owner’s crotch when completely tied. While looking for parallels, we can notice that a belt compounded this way has many similarities to tassels on horse harnesses. Apparently, the belts were worn by riders or emerged from such a tradition, then maintained the position of wealthy status even after being adopted by neighbouring non-nomadic cultures. At last we can state that longer belts were designed mainly to hold more decoration and to allow the owner to handle the length more flexibly, whether for practical or aesthetical reasons.

Fig. 14: Composite belts with long ends.
A, b – belts from Gnezdovo (Мурашева 2000: рис. 109, 113), c – belts from Nové Zámky (Čilinská 1966: Abb. 19), d – belt from Hemse (Thunmark-Nylén 2006: Abb. III:9:3), e – reconstruction of belt tying from Káros, Hungary (Petkes – Sudár 2014).


The topic of belt lenght in reenactment is definitely a controversional one as it touches every male reenactor. Belts are sometimes costly and even a hint, originally meant as constructive critic, can easily cause negative emotions. There is no need for them though, as there is probably no reenactor who has never worn a long belt. We suppose that this reenactorism, used in practice for more than 30 years over the whole world, is caused by these factors:

  • unwillingness to perform one’s own research leading to imitation of a generally accepted model
  • bad access to sources or their misintepretation
  • easily obtainable and cheap, yet historically inaccurate belts sold on the internet in standard length of about 160 cm
  • unwillingness to talk about the problem by both organizers and attendants

In this article, we demonstrated that historical belts often did not have any hanging ends and that the maximum length where the end would reach was the crotch, which could have a symbolic meaning. Any of the aforementioned manners of attaching should not be incompatible with the sources we have at our disposal, however as we already mentioned, both the length and style of wearing followed local traditions. Western Europe therefore preferred delicately hidden belts while in Eastern Europe, the richly decorated belts were worn on public display.


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