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Award Abstract #1023167

Rags to Riches: An Archaeological Study of Textiles and Gender in Iceland, AD 874 -1800.

Division Of Polar Programs
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Initial Amendment Date: June 22, 2010
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Latest Amendment Date: May 30, 2012
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Award Number: 1023167
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Award Instrument: Continuing grant
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Program Manager: Anna Kerttula de Echave
PLR Division Of Polar Programs
GEO Directorate For Geosciences
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Start Date: July 1, 2010
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End Date: June 30, 2014 (Estimated)
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Awarded Amount to Date: $487,049.00
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Investigator(s): Michele Smith Michele_Smith@brown.edu (Principal Investigator)
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Sponsor: Brown University
BOX 1929
Providence, RI 02912-9002 (401)863-2777
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Program Reference Code(s): 1079, 5221, 9150
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Program Element Code(s): 5205, 5221


This project will conduct a three-year study exploring gender, textiles and society in Iceland from the Viking Age (ca. 874-1050) until the early 19th century, using museum collections from 12 archaeological sites from across Iceland.

Until ca. 1750, textiles and their production were central to the operation of the Icelandic economy. While raising, herding, and shearing sheep were tasks primarily undertaken by men, the transformation of sheared wool to yarn, cloth, and finished products was women's work. It is not inappropriate to suggest that the products of their labor formed the basis on which this society ran. Woolen textiles were legal currency in medieval and post-medieval Iceland, against which all other commodities were valued and traded. Debts, taxes, tithes and foreign exchanges were paid in woolen cloth. Detailed laws regulated the quality and construction of different types of woolen cloth for use in different types of exchange or for exchange at different rates, but it was women working together who ensured that quality, regulated their own household?s production, and created its durable wealth.

Women were also in charge of transforming cloth into clothing and, through that process, produced the most essential items of daily life - clothing, blankets, tents, and other utilitarian items - that buffered Icelanders against a changing climate and often-severe conditions during the Little Ice Age. In the process, they also established styles used to demonstrate households' status vis-Ó-vis others; to visually affirm individuals' status by marking gender, age and marital status; and to link Icelanders to international styles and to emerging emblems of regional and national identity.

Through a detailed analysis of textile collections now held in Icelandic museums, recovered over the past century from archaeological sites in all parts of this subarctic island and spanning 1100 years, this project will document and analyze women's roles and women's involvement in textile production, In so doing, it will help to establish an archaeology of gender in the North Altantic.

By exploring textile production and use, through time, on an island-wide scale, it will document the roles of imported textiles and dyes within Iceland and the ways that "women's work" in textile production influenced both Iceland?s domestic and international commerce. Through this approach, it will shed new light on women?s power within Icelandic households at different levels of the social system, providing a valuable contribution to social archaeological research in the North Atlantic.

Finally, by exploring the decisions that women made in transforming textiles - both domestic and imported - into clothing, this project will investigate the roles they played in establishing and changing markers of individual, family, regional, and national identity as well as decisions they may have made when facing increasing global climate cooling in the North Atlantic.

This project will bring Icelandic women and women's work to the forefront in North Atlantic research, use them as a model for reintroducing women into archaeological research programs across the North, and contribute to global discussions about the hidden roles of women in traditional societies and their roles in guiding change and preserving tradition.


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Michele Hayeur Smith. "Thorir's Bargain," World Archaeology, the Archaeology of Legal Culture, edited by A. Reynolds, and K.P.Smith, v.45.3, 2014, p. 1-18.

Michele Hayeur Smith. "2012 Some in Rags, Some in Jags and Some in Silken Gowns: Textiles from Iceland?s Early Modern Period.," International Journal of Historic Archaeology-10.1007/s10761-012-0190-1., v.16 (3), 2012, p. 509-528.

Michele Hayeur Smith. "Dress, Cloth and the Farmer's Wife: Textiles from ě172 Tatsipataakilleq, Greenland, with Comparative Data from Iceland. In Resources, Mobility, and Cultural Identity in Norse Gr°nland AD 980 ? 1450. The Vatnahverfi Project, 2005 - 2010.," Journal of the North Atlantic, v.Sp. Vol, 2014, p. 1-25.


Gu­mundur Olßfsson
Michele Hayeur Smith. ""Textiles from the 1988 Bessasta­ir Excavation",", 07/01/2011-06/30/2012, , Gu­mundur Olafsson"Bessasta­arannsokn 1988",  2012, "In Bessasta­arannsokn 1988,by Gu­mundur Ëlafsson, Skřrslur Ůjˇ­minjasafn ═slands, 2012.".

Michele Hayeur Smith. ""Dress, Cloth and the Farmer's Wife: Textiles from ě 172 Tatsipataakilleq Greenland with Comparative Data from Iceland."", 07/01/2011-06/30/2012, , : Jette Arneborg DK, Tom McGovern US & Georg Nyegaard GR"Resources, Mobility, and Cultural Identity in Norse Gr°nland AD 980 - 1450 ? The Vatnahverfi-project ? 2005 - 2010",  2012, "Publications of the National Museum ? Studies in Archaeology and History Version: 14-11-2011, Copenhagen.".

Michele Hayeur Smith. "Weaving Wealth: Cloth and Trade in Viking Age and Medieval Iceland.", 07/01/2011-06/30/2012, , edited by Angela Ling Huang, and Carsten Jahnke"Textiles and economy. Production and trade of textiles. The central and northern Europe as example",  2013, "The University of Copenhagen, Saxo Insitute,The Danish National Research Foundation, Centre for Textile Research.".


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