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Mittens Long in the National Museum of Iceland’s Archive Dated to Settlement Era

By Erik Pomrenke

mittens in national museum of iceland
Photo: provided by Þjóðminjasafn Íslands.

When Halldór Kristjánsson, a farmer from Akranes, dug new foundations for his farm in 1960, he unearthed a pair of mittens that have since sat in the collection of the National Museum. Kristján Eldjárn, then the head conservationist and future president of Iceland, suspected that the mittens dated from the earliest period in Iceland’s history.

His suspicion had gone unconfirmed until now, when a study conducted by researchers at the National Museum verified their antiquity.

national museum of iceland
provided by Þjóðminjasafn Íslands

Last spring, a sample from the Heynes mittens, named after the farm on which they were discovered, was sent abroad to a lab for analysis. Two samples were taken, one from the mittens themselves, and one from a braided cord that connects the mittens. The results of the dating show that both the mittens and cord are from the second half of the 10th century, placing them before the Christianization of Iceland. Notably, they are also an example of early sewing techniques for clothing, as knitting was not used in Iceland until the 1500s.

Earlier this year, Scandinavian textile experts conducted research at the National Museum of Iceland. They concluded that if the mittens did indeed date from the settlement period, their pristine condition could make them nearly unique as artefacts in the North Atlantic. The mittens are made from homespun wool, a staple fabric during the settlement of Iceland. Their remarkable preservation is attributed to their burial in the earth under the farmstead at Heynes.

The mittens, known as Þjms. 1960-77, can be viewed online at the National Museum of Iceland’s digital archive. The mittens are also on display at the National Museum, which is open from 10.00 to 17.00 every day of the week.



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