Researcher reveals colors of ancient Baltic folk costumes

The colors of ancient Baltic folk costumes were dominated by dark blue, brown, red and yellow hues, each carrying its own symbolic meaning.

That's what Ieva Pīgozne, a professor at the Latvian Culture Academy, has revealed in her doctoral dissertation, reported Latvian Radio Saturday.

In her thesis Pīgozne analyzed textile fragments, some of them a thousand years old, from archaeological excavations across Latvia.

Even though fragments of ancient costumes have been almost consumed by time, some clothing has stuck around bronze rings and spirals that were worked into textiles. 

"The best thing is that some of the woolen threads have preserved the original color. The pigment has not actually changed," she said.

Putting woolen fibers from the 3rd to 13th century under a microscope, Pīgozne revealed that costumes had been colored blue, red, yellow and brown.

"Blue and brown dominated in clothing, however textile ornaments feature blue, red, and yellow--more of red as opposed to yellow," she said.

The researcher also shed some light on the possible meanings of the colors.

"Red hues, it seems, meant mainly blood as the force of life, which could be given to another by using red in healing materials or ornaments. Or else [red meant] the force of a lost life when blood is spilled. That's why red was used in evil rituals," she said.

The meaning of other colors is less clear, however it seems that yellow was associated with maidenhood. Surprisingly, according to folklore the sun is not associated with yellow but rather white hues, with the exception that it's pictured red if associated with wars or weddings.

While brown could be a protective color, associated with armor and tree barks.

Blue could be associated with the starry sky. "It's the color of an initiation ritual, a symbolical ascension to heaven," she said.

Pīgozne said that researchers in Latvia have come quite close to how the original folk costumes could have looked, and altogether folk costumes are enjoying a vogue these days. 

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