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Scientists discover what high-ranking Vikings wore

“In the Viking Age, wearing exotic fur was almost certainly an obvious visual statement of affluence."


Map of studied sites and examples of included fur. (Brandt et al. via SWNS)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

High-ranking Vikings wore exotic beaver furs, reveals new research.

They also donned clothes made from weasel and squirrel hides, according to the findings.

Beaver fur was a symbol of wealth and an important trade item in 10th Century Denmark.

Study lead author Dr. Luise Ørsted Brandt, an Assistant Professor at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said: “In the Viking Age, wearing exotic fur was almost certainly an obvious visual statement of affluence and social status, similar to high-end fashion in today's world.

"This study used ancient proteins preserved in elite Danish Viking burials to provide direct evidence of beaver fur trade and use.”

She said that written sources indicate that fur was a key commodity during the Viking Age, between 800 and 1050AD.

But Dr. Brandt explained that fur doesn’t often survive well in the archaeological record, so little direct evidence is available.

Previous studies have used the microscopic anatomy of ancient fur to identify species of origin, but that method is often inexact. Overall, not much was known about the kinds of furs the Vikings preferred.


For the new study, Dr. Brandt and her colleagues analyzed animal remains from six high-status graves from 10th Century Denmark.

Dr. Brandt said: "While no ancient DNA was recovered from the samples, perhaps due to treatment processes performed on furs and skins and probably due to preservation conditions, identifiable proteins were recovered by two different analytical techniques.

"Grave furnishings and accessories included skins from domestic animals, while clothing exhibited furs from wild animals, specifically a weasel, a squirrel, and beavers."

She said the findings, published in the journal PLOS One, support the idea that fur was a symbol of wealth during the Viking Age.

Dr. Brandt added: "The fact that beavers are not native to Denmark suggests this fur was a luxury item acquired through trade.

"Some clothing items included fur from multiple species, demonstrating a knowledge of the varying functions of different animal hides, and may have indicated a desire to show off exclusive furs."

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