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Riia brings the Middle Ages to life through Historical Re-enactment Society

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Riia Chmielowski also known in the “Current Middle Ages” as Kareina Talventytär is a postgraduate research student in our Department of Archaeology.

She is currently finishing up her MPhil thesis in Archaeology, in which she investigates Swedish steatite artifacts from a biographical perspective.

Riia in armour, singing with a fellow SCA member before entering a tournament together
Riia in armour, singing with a fellow SCA member before entering a tournament together

Riia is an active member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), an organisation dedicated to recreating history with a focus on the Middles Ages. Dialogue spoke to Riia about her passion for re-enactment:

Tell us about your unusual hobby...

I, along with a few thousand friends, re-create the fun aspects of history, especially the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

This includes things like:

  • Making clothing in styles from these times and decorating them with embroidery.
  • Cooking yummy food from recipes recorded in old books or using information in the archaeological record to make foods using only ingredients known to have been used in a certain time/place.
  • Dancing dances recorded by dancing masters from the day to music notated then (often, luckily, in the same manuscript).
  • Singing the songs.
  • Writing new songs in a historical style.
  • Camping in medieval style pavilions (and sewing the tent myself, first), and building appropriate camp furniture. 
  • Building armour and practicing medieval style combat with blunted sticks of rattan instead of real swords, as we do not wish to hurt our friends. 

All this, and more - literally hundreds of hobbies I have dabbled in, and in some cases excelled at, in the name of fun, adventure, companionship, and learning cool stuff.

Riia in 12th Century costume
Riia in 12th Century costume

How did you get into historical re-enactement?

One of my friends in high school in Anchorage, Alaska, heard about the SCA and thought it was fun, so he went to a meeting, found out more, and promptly started a household. Soon 30 of us kids were making our own costumes and gathering in one another’s homes for weekend “revels”. Then he explained about this weird group of adults who do this too, and took us to an event at which there was dancing - a complicated pattern dance for couples in a line, to beautiful music, called Hole in the Wall (which I later learned is a dance from the Baroque period). Later we gathered in a circle and sang songs into the night.

I enjoyed it so much I was hooked straight away. I have participated in SCA events in ten countries, on three continents. During this time, I have taken up so many hobbies and have learned sewing, embroidery, dancing (as it was done in the 1400s to 1600s), songs and cooking from surviving recipes from the time. I have dabbled in leather work, woodwork, armour making, armoured combat, and much more…and now, decades later and many thousands of kilometres away, I am still an active participant and loving every minute of it.

Riia carving a soapstone cooking pot as used in the Viking Age in Norway
Riia carving a soapstone cooking pot as used in the Viking Age in Norway

Why is it important to you?

I love being part of the SCA for many reasons, but it's hard to say if it's most important to have an excuse for having many fun hobbies, so that I am never bored, or if it is the wonderful friends I've made through the group who share my love of learning through doing.

Indeed, it is through my SCA network of connections that I heard about Durham through my dear friend Countess Aryanhwy, also known as Sara Uckelman (or as her students sometimes call her, Doctor Logic).  

It was her joy in working at Durham that gave me the motivation to apply when I saw an advert for a part time PGR student opportunity in Archaeology. Studying here, part time and long distance from northern Sweden, has been a delightful experience that wouldn’t have happened if not for my hobbies that have me living in the past.



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