Itching and Scratching

My brother-in-law, Laurie, recently completed a 6-year part-time degree in archeology at the University of Bristol.  During his studies he spent most of his spare time visiting and exploring burial sites in the British Isles and continental Europe.   Before long we started to refer to his activities as ‘itching and scratching’.  Not very respectful, I know.  In fact, Laurie very quickly became an expert on the subject of megalithic tombs and has gone on to become chairman of the Clifton Antiquarian Club in Bristol in his spare time – when he’s not itching and scratching that is. 🙂

Laurie’s interest in ancient burial sites was a strange coincidence.   In the early 1970’s my family lived for some years in the beautiful village of Westervelde in the Netherlands.  The north of the country is home to many megalithic tombs and as children my sisters Emelien (now Laurie’s wife), Marijke and I spent many afternoons clambering all over ‘our own’ pile of stones.  I know, that too is not very respectful but they are pretty solid and have been around for thousands of years, so we were not too worried.  We still go back to Westervelde and never fail to get a picture of us by the burial site.  These burial sites – or hunebedden in Dutch – have always been hugely popular with Dutch children.   ‘MyTravel Kit to the Netherlands’ includes several legends about the builders of these sites.

Travelling around Sweden in 2007 we spent some time in Östersund, a mid-sized regional capital roughly in the centre of Sweden.  When regional cultural heritage became popular in the early 1900’s, the curate of the newly established regional heritage museum in Östersund came across a tapestry in the village of Överhogdal. It was found lying in a shed, rolled up tight.  According to the locals it had been used as an altar piece in the local church for longer than anybody could remember.  Times had changed, however, so it had been replaced by a more modern piece and ended up in the shed!

When it was unrolled, it became clear that the tapestry might be something special.  Also obvious was the fact that a small rectangle had been cut out of one side of the tapestry.   The museum curate was intrigued.  Could this small piece still be around somewhere?  A hunt was set up to try and find the missing piece.  It was finally discovered in a doll’s bed belonging to a little girl in the village, who had used it as a doll’s blanket.    Both pieces were finally handed over to the curate, but not until the Governor’s wife had given the whole tapestry a good wash in a bath tub.  Well, it was after all very grubby!

For most of the past century, it was thought that the tapestry dated back to the Middle Ages.  However in 1991, carbon dating proved that the Överhogdal tapestries were made during the Viking era and date back to sometime between 800-1100AD.  The tapestry is beautifully crafted and the images show a wonderful mix of Christian beliefs and Norse mythology.  Not something I would want to try and wash in my bath, that’s for sure!

As we grow up, we don’t always appreciate the value of special places or artefacts, especially if they are on our doorstep.  That is why kids in the Netherlands will continue to climb all over ancient tomb stones and a little girl in Överhogdal gave a new use to a small piece of ancient tapestry.  If you ever find yourself in Sweden, make a bee-line for Östersund, where you’ll find the tapestry in Jamtli, Östersund’s regional museum.

My apologies if you expected this story to be about cheap accommodation and bed bugs, I have been misleading you!  We have stayed in lots of cheap accommodation, but they never came with complimentary bed bugs!  🙂
Although I do have stories of birds, bees and butterflies, but that will have to wait for another episode!  Do remember to subscribe to the blog!  It’s easy and free!

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  1. Francesca Waite
    Posted February 20, 2010 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    I love this post – really funny 😛
    and great to read about places that we went to because I can just say “Wow! I recognise that name” or “Wow! I recognise that story” I love it and I think your doing an amazing job – Website looks fab
    Love you loads

  2. An from Leuven
    Posted March 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Such a great story! It is really lovely and I enjoyed it immensely.
    We want more!
    We want more!

  3. caragh
    Posted April 3, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    ha ha! i love this blog Annemieke, very funny (and great website by the way!!!!) Looking forward to the book fair!

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