Human and animal skin identified by palaeoproteomics in Scythian leather objects from Ukraine.

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Brandt, Luise Ørsted  ORCID logo
Daragan, Marina 

Leather was one of the most important materials of nomadic Scythians, used for clothing, shoes, and quivers, amongst other objects. However, our knowledge regarding the specific animal species used in Scythian leather production remains limited. In this first systematic study, we used palaeoproteomics methods to analyse the species in 45 samples of leather and two fur objects recovered from 18 burials excavated at 14 different Scythian sites in southern Ukraine. Our results demonstrate that Scythians primarily used domesticated species such as sheep, goat, cattle, and horse for the production of leather, while the furs were made of wild animals such as fox, squirrel and feline species. The surprise discovery is the presence of two human skin samples, which for the first time provide direct evidence of the ancient Greek historian Herodotus' claim that Scythians used the skin of their dead enemies to manufacture leather trophy items, such as quiver covers. We argue that leather manufacture is not incompatible with a nomadic lifestyle and that Scythians possessed sophisticated leather production technologies that ensured stable supply of this essential material.


Acknowledgements: The authors thank Samantha Presslee for her help in receiving and running the MALDI plate and acknowledge the use of the Ultraflex III MALDI-ToF/ToF instrument in the York Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry. Access to the material and help were generously provided by Alla Pleshivenko (Zaporizhzhia Regional Inspectorate for the Preservation of Historical and Cultural Monuments), Zoya Popandopulo and Andrei Antonov (Zaporizhzhia Regional Museum), Andrei Lopushinskij (Kherson Regional Museum), Artem Ivantsev and Irina Koval’ova (Oles Honchar Dnipro National University), Nataliya Son and Oleksandr Shelekhan (Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine). The authors thank Prof. Jesper Velgaard Olsen at the Novo Nordisk Center for Protein Research for providing access to equipment and resources.). Some of the objects analysed in this study are stored in the museums of southern Ukraine which are currently in the war zone and at present the fate of some of them is unknown, while others are not available for further study.

Funder: Gerda Henkel Foundation; funder-id:; Grant(s): AZ 43/F/16 The production technology of Scythian Archery equipment: bow, arrows and quivers

Humans, Animals, Cats, Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Ukraine, Skin, Animals, Wild, Shoes, Goats
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PLoS One
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Public Library of Science (PLoS)
Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (Preserving Scythian Heritage for the Future)
Danmarks Grundforskningsfond (128 PROTEIOS)