Estonian Muhu Skirts Dyed with Mine Chemicals

Kadri Liik shared on Twitter some of her family history of using mines to dye fabric for colorful folk skirts in western Estonia in 1930s.

Strictly speaking, of course, it’s not mines themselves that were used in dyeing, but the picric acid in them. Russian World War I battleship Slava sank in 1917 between Muhu island and mainland Estonia, only 12 years after putting to sea.

Google Maps Muhu Estonia

Estonians scrapped the ship in the early 1930s. During that process, picric acid was extracted and put to use. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, picric acid was first used in dyeing in 1849, initially of silk. In Muhu, it was apparently used with wool.

The bright yellow derived from picric acid was locally known as mine yellow (miinikollane). Below is the Muhu skirt made from scratch by Liik’s grandmother or great aunt in 1930s:

Twitter Kadri Liik Muhu Skirt

Apparently, Muhu skirts enjoyed such popularity that older women might be doing their everyday chores in them as late as the 1960s.

It’s quite striking, isn’t it? It seems that some of these traditional patterns survive, either in traditionally woven textiles or as prints on modern fabrics, which is fabulous. I’m not sure I’d like to know exactly how the picric was extracted in the 30s, though…!

Images: map of Muhu island by Google Maps. Skirt by Kadri Liik via Twitter.

How It Happens is an occasional feature looking at the inner workings of various creative efforts.

Swedish Riksdaler Plate Money Could Seriously Weigh You Down

Did you know that Sweden used to be a major power in northern Europe? A major power as in having land holdings pretty much all around the Baltic Sea and even beyond? If I hadn’t learned that at school, I probably wouldn’t know; it’s really not talked about much these days.

Anyway. One fascinating detail from my classes that has stayed with me is the large riksdaler plate money (Swedish: plåtmynt). They were circulated in the 17th to 18th centuries to reduce the costs of minting coins and ease the transportation of money.

The riksdaler could be quite large. For example, according to my old history book, the 1644 coin measured 20 x 70 cm (approximately 8″ x 27″) and weighed 19,7 kg (approx. 43-44 lbs). The one pictured below is from 1744 and obviously not nearly as big as that.

Swedish Platmynt 1 Daler

What if in your secondary fantasy world, instead of chests of thousands of coins, your intrepid adventurers had to deal with large metal sheet money, a dozen or so to a chest? Wouldn’t that be an interesting worldbuilding detail?

Image: Anja Laurila et al. Historia kurssi III. Porvoo: WSOY, 1990, p. 73.

History for Writers is a weekly feature which looks at how history can be a fiction writer’s most useful tool. From worldbuilding to dialogue, history helps you write.

Living Vicariously Through Social Media: An Undersea Roundabout in the Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands—an autonomous region of Denmark—has built bridges and tunnels before to connect the numerous islands or islets and its 50,000-some residents. Never before, however, have they dug an undersea tunnel as deep or as long as the brand-new Eysturoyartunnilin, nor built an undersea roundabout.

Eysturoyartunnil Interior Green

The roundabout is part of a tunnel measuring about 11 km (6.8 miles), the third sub-sea tunnel in the islands. It connects the islands of Streymoy and Eysturoy, and reaches at its deepest 187 meters (roughly 200 yards) below sea level. At this writing the tunnel’s been in use for about a month.

Eysturoyartunnil Map

The roundabout comes with art—sculptures and light effects—designed by the Faroese artist Tróndur Patursson. You can read more about the tunnel at BBC or the P/F Eysturoyar- og Sandoyartunnil project website.

Eysturoyartunnil Interior Blue

Oh, my goodness. It’s obviously not a solution that suits every location, and I assume the cost plus know-how involved can also be a deterrent, but what a feat of engineering and vision it is. This is yet another reason why it’s (pandemic aside) exciting to be living now!

Found via Kristina Háfoss on Twitter.

Images: Map by P/F Eysturoyar- og Sandoyartunnil. Interior images by Estunlar.fo via BBC.

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.

Frozen II Is at the Theaters, and Soon Dubbed in Sámi

Today is the premier for the animated sequel Frozen II here in the U.S. Unlike most Di$ney princess movies*, I will be seeing this one during its theatrical release for a particular reason.

In the story, Anna and Elsa et al. travel to the north and meet a people resembling the Sámi. For their research and inspiration, the Walt Disney Animation Studios not only talked with Sámi people but actually signed an agreement with the Sámi to do it in a respectful, collaborative way.

The Sámi are the only indigenous people within the European Union area. They currently live in the northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, and Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia.

Disney even invited some members of the Sámi Parliaments to U.S. to see the movie at the world premier, meet some of the makers, and tour the animation studio.

Yle Siv Eli Vuolab Samediggi Frozen II World Premiere

The most exciting part for my linguist brain is that the studio will record and release a version dubbed in Northern Sámi, the largest of the Sámi languages. The voice actors are drawn mainly from Sweden and Norway, among them the acclaimed Sámi musician Mari Boine, but also one Finn. (Yay!)

Yle Frozen II Screencap Northern Herders

While it’s true they aren’t very numerous these days (partly thanks to racial, linguistic, and cultural discrimination), the Sámi do exist and do have a living culture. (Just check out the music scene for one incredibly vibrant aspect—yoik comes almost in all styles now!) I grew up two hours south of the Arctic Circle, and the Sámi were my classmates, neighbors, and teachers. For me it’s delightful that Disney took the time to research, listen, and respectfully pay homage to people I grew up with.

Undoubtedly I will also enjoy scenery that reminds me of trips to Lapland even if the first reports say the northern mountains look too young and rugged to be based on the fells on the Finnish side of the border. 🙂

Yle Frozen II Screencap Valley View

*) The only other exception is Moana, which was also produced in cooperation with indigenous peoples.

Images: Per-Olof Nutti, Aili Keskitalo, Åsa Larsson Blind, and Tiina Sanila-Aikio with their daughters at the world premier of Frozen II by Siv Eli Vuolab / Sámediggi via Yle. Three members of the northern herder tribe from Frozen II via Yle. View overlooking a northern valley from Frozen II via Yle.

In Live and Active Cultures we talk about cultures and cultural differences.

Quotes: Finns Were on Intimate Terms with Winter

After the Finnish centennial in 2017, I’ve been reading outside my usual periods of Finnish history, including on the Finnish Winter War (1939-1940, for 105 days against the USSR).

It’s easy for a modern Finn—at least this modern Finn—to get tired of reading endless takes, almost exclusively by foreigners, condemning the horribleness of the Finnish winter. Like in this excerpt from a book on the Winter War:

“One of the main factors that enabled the Finns to destroy forces much larger than their own was surely rooted in the differing psychologies of the men engaged on either side. To the Finnish soldier, the cold, the snow, the forest, the long hours of darkness were all factors that could be turned to his advantage. To say that the Finns were on intimate terms with winter is to voice an understatement. In Finland winter is the fact of life, and all else—the economy, the culture, the national psychology—is colored by, or derived from, that single overriding reality. The relationship between the Finns and winter constitutes something of a contradiction. On the one hand, winter makes life harsh and lonely and something crude. It is this aspect of living with winter, the cumulative effect of endless subarctic nights, the unearthly silences of the winter landscape, the harsh and marginal quality of rural life, that imparts to the Finnish character that dour and brooding quality that is so hard for foreigners to penetrate.”

– William Trotter, A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 [original emphasis]

It is true that we stayed poor quite long and urbanised quite fast, pretty much during my parents’ generation, so it’s easy for me to lose perspective. Even as late as 1950s (I believe) it wasn’t unheard of for more remote farms not to have electricity. And our winters are undoubtedly long and dark compared to even central Europe, not to mention the Mediterranean and further south.

What bugs me, though, is that people seem to expect conditions like Siberia or Greenland. Hate to disappoint you, but our climate is greatly tempered by the Gulf stream and it isn’t that different from, say, New England. Another detail I’d like foreigners to really learn is that less than half of the country is arctic, and that means the rest is not. The southern coast is, in fact, part of the temperate broadleaf forest zone which covers most of central Europe, Britain, southern Scandinavia, and southern Russia.

I do grant that the Finnish character hasn’t caught up with the technological development, at least not yet: in general terms, we still tend towards melancholy despite now having world-class cities, transportation, and tech.

Trotter, William R. A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1991, p. 144.

Serving exactly what it sounds like, the Quotes feature excerpts other people’s thoughts.

New Find: Most Uralic Speakers Share Siberian Ancestry

(This post is mostly a Note to Self—I don’t want to forget about the study below—but if other people are interested, that’s great.)

The majority of languages spoken in North Eurasia belong to three language families—Turkic, Indo-European, and Uralic. My native language Finnish is a part of the Uralic languages; the main branches of the family are the Finno-Ugric and the Samoyed.

While there’s rough agreement over where and how Uralic languages developed and spread, and over what types of material cultures were found in the corresponding areas, no-one’s done comprehensive studies on the genetic history of Uralic-speaking peoples before.

This interdisciplinary study, lead by Kristiina Tambets from the University of Tartu, Estonia, compared genome-wide genetic variation of nearly all extant Uralic-speaking populations from Europe and Siberia.

From the abstract:

“The genetic origins of Uralic speakers from across a vast territory in the temperate zone of North Eurasia have remained elusive. Previous studies have shown contrasting proportions of Eastern and Western Eurasian ancestry in their mitochondrial and Y chromosomal gene pools. While the maternal lineages reflect by and large the geographic background of a given Uralic- speaking population, the frequency of Y chromosomes of Eastern Eurasian origin is distinctively high among European Uralic speakers. The autosomal variation of Uralic speakers, however, has not yet been studied comprehensively. […]

“Here, we present a genome-wide analysis of 15 Uralic-speaking populations which cover all main groups of the linguistic family. We show that contemporary Uralic speakers are genetically very similar to their local geographical neighbours. However, when studying relationships among geographically distant populations, we find that most of the Uralic speakers and some of their neighbours share a genetic component of possibly Siberian origin. Additionally, we show that most Uralic speakers share significantly more genomic segments identity-by-descent with each other than with geographically equidistant speakers of other languages. We find that correlated genome-wide genetic and lexical distances among Uralic speakers suggest co- dispersion of genes and languages. Yet, we do not find long-range genetic ties between Estonians and Hungarians with their linguistic sisters that would distinguish them from their non-Uralic-speaking neighbours.”

Tambets et al Geo Distribution Uralic Populations w Lang Tree

And the conclusion:

“Here, we present for the first time the comparison of genome-wide genetic variation of nearly all extant Uralic-speaking populations from Europe and Siberia. We show that (1) the Uralic speakers are genetically most similar to their geographical neighbours; (2) nevertheless, most Uralic speakers along with some of their geographic neighbours share a distinct ancestry component of likely Siberian origin. Furthermore, (3) most geographically distant Uralic speaking populations share more genomic IBD segments with each other than with equidistant populations speaking other languages and (4) there is a positive correlation between linguistic and genetic data of the Uralic speakers. This suggests that the spread of the Uralic languages was at least to some degree associated with movement of people. Moreover, the discovery of the Siberian component shows that the three known major components of genetic diversity in Europe (European hunter-gatherers, early Neolithic farmers and the Early Bronze Age steppe people) are not enough to explain the extant genetic diversity in (northeast) Europe.”

I find the question of which material cultures may have spread together with which languages absolutely fascinating. Having my own small language / culture be a part of a larger study like this makes it even more special.

I was also surprised to learn that only three Uralic languages—Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian—are not listed as endangered in the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger. (I did know that several of the tiniest ones like Mari or the Permic languages have been endangered for decades, but I had thought that some of the Samoyed or Ugric languages had more speakers than that.)

While I doubt these three will go extinct very soon, there’s pressure at least in Finland to adopt more and more loanwords from English. Then again, we three may end up being rather rare, all in all, and I’m not quite sure whether to be alarmed over our potential disappearance or proud of our preciousness—or both.

Found via Helsingin Sanomat (NB. Finnish only). (Related article on the Siberian genes of Finns and the Sami in English via University of Helsinki.)

Tambets, Kristiina et al. 2018. “Genes reveal traces of common recent demographic history for most of the Uralic-speaking populations”. Genome Biology 19:139. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s13059-018-1522-1. The article is openly accessible (CC BY 4.0).

Image screencapped from Kristiina Tambets et al.

On, of, and about languages.

Stockholm University: Research Reveals Half of Viking Age Sigtuna Residents Were Immigrants

I’ve been meaning to share this for a while now, but something or other was always supposedly more important or interesting. No more! 🙂

The Viking Age Sigtuna, Sweden, was formally founded around 980 AD, and it was a much more cosmopolitan city than thought before. According to new DNA analysis, approximately half of city’s population were immigrants.

Flickr Guillen Perez Sigtuna Viking Rune Stone

The study looked at the remnants of 38 individuals who lived and died in Sigtuna between the 900s and 1100s CE, and included other scientific approaches as well (like analysing the strontium isotope contents of the residents’ teeth).

Roughly half of the population grew up in the near-by region Mälardalen (the Mälaren Valley, or Stockholm-Mälaren Region). The other half arrived either from southern Scandinavia (including Norway and Denmark) or further away. The long-distance immigrants came from the British Isles, Ukraine, Lithuania, northern Germany, and other parts of central Europe, and were more likely to be women than men (approx. 70 percent of women vs. 44 percent of the men).

Read more on the Stockholm University research news page: article in Swedish / article in English.

I guess I’m by far not the first woman to fall in love with a Viking and to move far away with him. 🙂

Found via Yle uutiset.

Image: section of a Viking rune stone from Sigtuna by Guillén Pérez on Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.