In the largest and richest equipped Viking burial mounds discovered in Norway there are usually found beds and several types of bird feathers and down from pillows and duvets, including eagle-owls’ feathers. This demonstrates that wealthy Viking aristocrats slept as they lived: quite comfortably.
Modern technology and knowledge makes it possible to separate feathers and down from different bird species, and according to the Norwegian research portal Gemini.no, there have been discovered remains from a variety of birds – including the Eurasian eagle-owl, Northern Europe’s largest owl.
There have also been discovered everything from the exclusive down from the common eider known for its extreme insulating properties, to “common crow” feathers.
Eiderdown is regarded as the most exclusive and is even today highly sought after for duvet manufacturing. Only about 0.56 ounces is collected from each nest, and it takes 18 to 35 ounces to produce one duvet, equivalent to down from about sixty nests.
This clearly shows that back in the Viking Age, bird feathers must have been a really exclusive commodity, and that the luxury of owning a pillow and duvet was reserved for only the wealthiest in the Norse society.
An about one centimeter long well-preserved fragment of a bird feather found in a grave dating back to the Viking Age. Even after many hundreds of years, it is possible to see the colors and that this is a crow feather. (Photo: Jørgen Rosvold, NTNU Unversity Museum, Trondheim)
Feathers in Metal
In some Viking burial mounds there are found prints of different feathers in metal. If a sword was placed on a pillow next to the buried person, it corroded over time and the feathers got covered with rust.
Researchers are now investigating Swedish and Norwegian younger Iron Age graves, among others the magnificent Oseberg Viking ship buried in the year 834 AD, to determine which bird species the feathers come from.
The researchers are analyzing fragments dating all the way back to the year 570 AD, and throughout the Viking era. There is so far not found older feathers and down, but this does not mean they were not used in duvets and pillows.
Copy of the bed found in the Oseberg ship burial chamber where two elderly women were found lying next to each other. (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)
Inside the buried Oseberg Viking ship, two elderly women were found in a separate burial chamber just behind the ship mast.
The chamber was decorated with a stunningly woven tapestry and the two women were placed next to each other in a made bed – with duvets and pillows.
Five other beds were also discovered in the Oseberg ship grave – all most likely equipped with duvets and pillows filled with bird feathers, securing that the two women would sleep comfortably in their Afterlife.