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The First Hipsters Were Vikings?

They are better known for becoming the fierce Viking warriors who terrorised much of Europe though the Middle Ages, but it seems ancient Norsemen may have been the world's first hipsters.

Archaeologists have discovered evidence that some women in Iron Age Norway around 1,500 years ago wore jewellery emblazoned with 'foreign' designs to help them stand out from the crowd.

The researchers say there appears to have been distinct trend among certain women in the upper echelons of pre-Viking Norse society to choose distinctive jewellery to make social statements.

Women living in Iron Age Norway usually worse jewellery typical of their region but a few may have worn foreign designs to stand out. One brooch found in Skien, Norway, has edging seen in the local jewellery around the rectangular plate, but also carries spiral decorations commonly seen in Denmark or Sweden (pictured)

While some of the jewellery, which has been found in graves dating to between 400AD and 550AD, appears to have been made in other countries, some is local but adopts foreign designs.

At the time, before the Viking culture emerged into Europe with the first raids in 790AD, it was extremely unusual for jewellery to have this mashup of Scandinavian designs.

Ingunn Marit Røstad, an archaeologist at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, told MailOnline that it seems the jewellery was an early desire to 'stand out'.

However, she said there was an important distinction from the hipsters of today who build their wardrobes around a desire to not conform to the society around them.

She said: 'I think the owners were women belonging to the upper strata of society, although perhaps not exclusively the uppermost level.

'Most of these finds definitely belong to the richest graves in this period - the migration period, c. AD 400-550 - but others have been found in graves that are well furnished, but would not be characterized as "aristocratic".

'I think that the foreign or "different" jewellery gave social status both to the women that wore the jewellery and to their family.

'I don't really think we can compare them to the "hipsters", because today everybody can choose to become a hipster.

'But there is no doubt that both in the Iron Age and today people use dress and jewellery to distinguish themselves and make social statements.'

Dr Røstad examined around 1,200 Iron Age brooches and pieces of jewellery that were found in several different areas of Norway.

At the time in 500AD different regions of Norway used very distinct designs. At this time the country was a combination of Sami cultures and North-Germanic Norse.

These people would later emerge as the Vikings in the 8th Century. 

While most of the jewellery appeared to conform with the styles of the local areas they were found in, around 25 appeared to be quite different.

Some seemed to combine local designs with those more commonly seen in Denmark and southern Sweden.

Dr Røstad said at the time clothing and jewellery was governed by strict cultural rules.

Cross-shaped brooches in Iron Age Norway tended to have designs specific to the local area. Those pictured above were typical of Hå in Rogaland County (left), Sogndal in Sogn og Fjordane County,  Klepp in Rogaland County, Førde in Sogn og Fjordane County, an unknown location, and Voss in Hordaland County (right)

The women who wore foreign jewellery obviously did it as a conscious expression of foreign affiliations that gave them and their family status, said the researchers. In one example a gilded silver brooch found in the Skien area of Norway (marked) carries spiral decorations more commonly seen in Denmark or Sweden

She said: 'It's not at all likely that you could choose freely to wear whatever jewellery you liked or wanted to wear in the migration period/Scandinavian Iron Age.

'Your "choice" was governed or structured or regulated by unwritten laws about social dress codes.

'The women who wore foreign or unusual jewellery obviously did it as a conscious expression of foreign affiliations that gave them and their family status.

'In one example a gilded silver brooch found in the Skien area of Norway has designs typically seen in the local jewellery, but also carries spiral decorations more commonly seen in Denmark or Sweden.

The Vikings (still from the TV series Vikings pictured) who later emerged from the Iron Age Norse cultures were better known for terrorising the coastlines of Europe, but they too wore foreign jewellery for status

In another example, archaeologists found a mould in eastern Swedend that could have been used to make jewellery typically seen in Rogaland, western Norway.

Dr Røstad believes the mix-and-match jewellery may have been an attempt to demonstrate political alliances.

Speaking to Science Nordic, she said by the sixth century it was customary for the upper classes to raise each other's children, which could have given some a connection to distant regions.

They may have then tried to show off these connections by combining the jewellery and possibly the clothes of the two areas.

Later the Vikings would also use jewellery to make statements about their status by flaunting items from far flung lands.

Dr Røstad told Science Nordic: 'I am convinced that this represents a desire to stand out.'

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