Beaver fur was a symbol of wealth and an important trade item in 10th-century Denmark, according to a study published July 27, 2022, in the open access journal PLUS ONE by Luise Ørsted Brandt of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues.
Written sources indicate that fur was a key product during the Viking Age, between 800 and 1050 AD. C., but the skin does not usually survive well in the archaeological record, so little direct evidence is available. Previous reports have used the microscopic anatomy of ancient skins to identify the species of origin, but this method is often inaccurate. In general, not much is known about the types of fur the Vikings preferred.
In this study, Brandt and colleagues analyzed animal remains from six high-status 10th-century graves in Denmark. While no ancient DNA was recovered from the samples, perhaps due to treatment processes performed on hides and skins and likely due to preservation conditions, identifiable proteins were recovered using two different analytical techniques. The tomb furnishings and accessories included the skins of domestic animals, while the clothing featured the skins of wild animals, specifically a weasel, a squirrel, and beavers.
These findings support the idea that fur was a symbol of wealth during the Viking Age. The fact that beavers are not native to Denmark suggests that this fur was a luxury item acquired through trade. Some garments included skins from multiple species, showing an awareness of the different functions of different animal skins, and may have indicated a desire to display exclusive skins. The authors point out that the greatest limiting factor in this type of study is the incomplete nature of comparative protein databases; As these databases expand, more specific identifications of ancient animal hides and skins will become possible.
The authors add: “In the Viking Age, wearing exotic fur was almost certainly an obvious visual statement of wealth and social status, similar to high-end fashion in today’s world. This study uses ancient proteins preserved in Danish Viking burials from elite to provide evidence of trade and use of beaver pelts”.
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