Michèle Hayeur Smith

Jun 1, 2021

The Valkyries' Loom

The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic

University Press of Florida 2020

Marianne Hem Eriksen (Associate Professor, School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester) speaks with Michèle Hayeur Smith (Research Associate, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University) about Smith's recent book, The Valkyries’ Loom: The Archaeology of Cloth Production and Female Power in the North Atlantic (University Press of Florida, 2020).

Textile production across the north Atlantic rested in the hands of women for centuries. Even the Valkyries participated, although those mythical Norse maidens who collect dead warriors on the battlefield, have been depicted in Njál's Saga, in the poem, The Darraðarljóð --weaving “men’s fates” on a ‘broad loom of Slaughter’. Closely tied with women’s magic and reproductive powers, cloth served as a ‘second skin’ of protection and cultural distinction. The work of spinning yarn and weaving cloth acquired symbolic associations with creation and destruction long ignored by researchers. In this ambitious analysis, Hayeur Smith unites literary, historical, and archaeological sources to investigate both the meaning and the material remains of cloth production across the Norse settlements of the North Atlantic from Scotland to Greenland. She examines the archaeological remains of textiles and weaving technologies, finding evidence that women’s work intersected with family roles, social hierarchies, religious ideals, colonialism,  domestic economies and export trade. Incorporating a wide range of methodologies, Hayeur Smith persuasively argues that textiles reveal the remarkable ethnic and technological diversity that characterized communities across the North Atlantic, while changes in production register climate change and social transformation. Women produced vaðmál, cloth currency that provided the foundation of Iceland’s economy from the early medieval era through the seventeenth century. Join us for this conversation about the warp and weft of women’s work across centuries in the Norse world of the North Atlantic.

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