In the 10th century CE, Vikings in Denmark wore beaver furs to show their social status. As beavers are not native to Denmark, such furs were considered a luxury item.

READ MORE: Vikings in Denmark wore beaver furs to show their high status, new research shows

As beaver furs were used as a symbol of affluence, they were valuable trade objects in the 10th century. 

Furthermore, the expert analysis of animal remains at high-status graves points to Vikings also wearing clothes made from the hides of other animals, such as squirrels and weasels.

The Viking Herald reached out to the research team behind the study to find out more about their findings and the new technologies used in their research.

Exciting developments

Matthew Collins, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and the McDonald Chair of Palaeoproteomics, based at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research within the Department of Archaeology, told The Viking Herald that, in his expert opinion, the "most exciting finding is being able to get such neat data from such small samples," adding that "the size will come down even more. " 

"I am also excited by new developments in combined carbon (45%), nitrogen (15%), and sulfur (5%) isotopes in hair (% indicates percentage composition) which can all be analyzed in less than 2mg of hair. Together these three isotopes may start to reveal patterns in the origin of the fur - although, at present, we lack the baseline data. 

"This is because each is tracking something different, carbon is wetness and forest canopy, nitrogen is trophic level (carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore), and sulfur is both distance from the sea and the wetness and nature of the underlying geology. 

"To be able to identify the species of fur and then (perhaps) start to get an idea of where the fur is coming from would really begin to open up our eyes to another element of the extraordinary trade networks," Collins pointed out.

Fur-covered books and Viking trade networks

The researcher also noted that the team was currently looking into the connection between fur-covered books in Cistercian monasteries and fur and hide trading across the Viking world.

"On another tack, we are currently working on a VERY different project looking at fur-covered books in Cistercian monasteries. This would seem very, very different.  

"Yet it is beginning to emerge that these furry bindings, thought to have been deer skin, are in fact made from seal, and there is evidence that this is part of the fur and hide trading across the Viking world (a collaboration Morten Tang Olsen).  

When coupled with the extraordinary work being conducted by James Barrett and Bastiaan Star on cod and ivory trade networks, we are getting a much better picture of the role of animals in trade networks, paralleling the amazing work being done by Soren Sindbaek (at Aarhus) on inorganic materials. 

What we see is the role played by Scandinavia in the trade in biological materials (antler (bone combes) ivory, fur, fish, pelts) used widely in Medieval Europe records which only a decade ago were evidenced in far less direct ways," Collins said.

Morten Tange Olsen, an associate professor at the Section for Molecular Ecology and Evolution at the Globe Institute of the University of Copenhagen, told The Viking Herald that the research points to similar patterns in the seal fur trade.

"Indeed, we see somewhat similar patterns in seal fur trade… As for walrus, in addition to James and Bastiaan's great work, we have done a bit on Norse overexploitation of walrus in Iceland and are currently preparing a manuscript to shed new light on Bastiaan's and James's ivory artifact sourcing," Tange Olsen stated.

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