In 2005, when Howard Williams and I and a bunch of hard-working people excavated a Viking Period boat grave at Skamby in Östergötland, we found a funny little silver pin. It wasn’t in the grave, it was found just outside the edge of the superstructure, near the ground surface, though technically in a culture layer of the 2nd century BC. I’ve been trying off and on to find parallells to the pin, showing its picture to a lot of knowledgeable people, to no avail. Everybody has the same impression as myself: it doesn’t quite look like anything from Swedish Prehistory. So in a recent paper I co-authored with ceramics expert Ole Stilborg and Howard, we said that we really didn’t know what to make of the pin.
Today my friend and frequent collaborator Tim Olsson [Schröder] solved the riddle. Tim, being an ace metal detectorist, knows a lot about finds from recent centuries. He told me in email that he had seen darning needles from the 18th century and found that they have just about the same size and shape as the Skamby pin. They, however, are not decorated on the stem, which is hardly surprising as any irregularities there would snag the yarn. He suggested that I talk to the people at the Museum of Nordic Culture. I sent a picture and a few words of explanation to the museum, and very swiftly received a reply from the excellent Berit Eldvik. Turns out that Tim had gotten the pin’s date right and its function almost right (and I translate):
“It’s not a darning needle, but probably a lacing pin, that is, one that women used to lace a string or a ribbon through the lace holes of their bodices. They’re usually about 7 cm long, often made out of silver with various kinds of decoration or spiral-twisted. They could be dull-pointed as they weren’t intended to pierce fabric.
I append a picture of a bodice with a lacing pin from the early 19th century from Sorunda parish in Södermanland. How far back into time these lacing pins reach is more than I dare say. I do believe they extend back at least to the 17th century.”
What this means is that apparently a certain amount of bodice-ripping has been going on around the cemetery in c. the 18th century. I hope they enjoyed themselves!