The most fascinating finds from Birka (8th-10th century Sweden) are the braided and woven metal trims and decorations found in over forty of the graves. While we do not know that they would have been called by the people who wore them, we now call these pieces “posaments” or “passementeries” in modern sources. Agnes Geijer’s Birka III: Die Textilfunde aus den Gräbern describes twenty-seven different posaments but other scholarly sources on the posaments are scarce. Unlike the round-knit and drawn wire-weaving chains, posaments are braids or knots that are usually flat-woven and often strongly resemble Celtic knotwork. While a few of the examples are woven with drawn gold wire, most of the extant posaments are made from a peculiar spiral wire formed by wrapping a fine wire around a core of silk. Extant posament types include bands on fabric or hems, decorative knots or spangles, strap ends or belt finials, and sliding knots.
The Birka finds online are found on the website of the Swedish History Museum. They have a great general Collections search, but there is also a specific section for the Birka finds and a function that lets you search grave by grave. Excitingly, there is now a Birka Portal online with links to many additional sources, including PDFs of the Birka reports, including Birka III.
In order to aid searches in the Birka database as well as other online sources, I have compiled a glossary of potentially useful terms in English, Swedish, the Birka database’s Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Finnish. It is available here.
Posaments, Grave by Grave
Below is the fruit of many hours of hunting through the Birka graves, literally grave by grave, searching for posaments or anything that might be a posament. The first sheet is all the things I am fairly certain represent a posament. The second sheet lists all the entries that I feel could potentially be a posament as well as a rating as to how likely I think it is that the item is a posament.
I am making this document freely available, I only ask that if you use it, please cite me appropriately and I would LOVE to see the results of any papers or reproductions that come of it! Also, additions, discussions, corrections, and comments are all welcome! My contact information appears on the third page.
Key: UI = Unable to be positively identified NP = No Photo, so identification not possible
An Excel document may not be sexy to look at, but it contains important data like the frequency of posament patterns and the number of posaments per grave.
Watch this space for updates and additions – I will soon be updating and expanding the Birka materials and I have some non-Birka posaments from Hedeby and Gotland that will be added soon.