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Palaeoproteomics identifies beaver fur in Danish high-status Viking Age burials - direct evidence of fur trade.

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Brandt, Luise Ørsted  ORCID logo
Taurozzi, Alberto J  ORCID logo
Sinding, Mikkel-Holger S  ORCID logo
Vieira, Filipe Garrett 


Fur is known from contemporary written sources to have been a key commodity in the Viking Age. Nevertheless, the fur trade has been notoriously difficult to study archaeologically as fur rarely survives in the archaeological record. In Denmark, fur finds are rare and fur in clothing has been limited to a few reports and not recorded systematically. We were therefore given access to fur from six Danish high status graves dated to the Viking Age. The fur was analysed by aDNA and palaeoproteomics methods to identify the species of origin in order to explore the Viking Age fur trade. Endogenous aDNA was not recovered, but fur proteins (keratins) were analysed by MALDI-TOF-MS and LC-MS/MS. We show that Viking Age skin clothing were often composites of several species, showing highly developed manufacturing and material knowledge. For example, fur was produced from wild animals while leather was made of domesticates. Several examples of beaver fur were identified, a species which is not native to Denmark, and therefore indicative of trade. We argue that beaver fur was a luxury commodity, limited to the elite and worn as an easily recognisable indicator of social status.



Animals, Burial, Chromatography, Liquid, Denmark, Rodentia, Tandem Mass Spectrometry

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)