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

Photo: PLOS ONE / CC-BY 4.0

According to a new study, Vikings in Denmark wore beaver furs to demonstrate their high social status.

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, has found that Vikings in Denmark of high statues wore beaver furs to indicate their high status, The Viking Herald reports.

Beavers are not native animals in Denmark, so their furs were used as a luxury symbol of affluence. They were also 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 squirrels and weasels. 

Symbols of high social status

According to the study’s lead author, Luise Ørsted Brandt, these furs symbolized high status in society.

“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,” Ørsted Brandt said, according to the Daily Mail.

Furthermore, written sources point to the fur being an important commodity during the Viking Age. Unfortunately, little direct evidence is available to determine the types of furs that Vikings favored due to the fact that fur decays quickly. 

Previous research often used the microscopic anatomy of ancient fur to identify the species of origin. However, the said method is frequently imprecise.

New analysis

In the news study, the team of researchers at the University of Copenhagen analyzed the animal remains used to furnish six graves of high-status, 10th-century Danish Vikings.  

While ancient DNA was not able to be recovered from the studied samples, the experts were able to recover identifiable proteins by using two different techniques.

The said proteins indicated that the skins belonged to domestic animals and were used as grave furnishings or footwear.  

The analysis of the clothing revealed fur from wild animals – beavers, a weasel, and a squirrel. These were worn by members of both sexes.

Advanced manufacturing

The study’s findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS One, and they support the notion that fur was used as a symbol of affluence during the Viking Age.

As beavers are not native to Denmark – by the time the Viking Age started, beavers had already been extinct in the country for roughly 3,000 years – Vikings likely acquired their furs via trade. 

Furthermore, as some of the clothing from the analyzed graves included fur belonging to different species, it may be possible that high-status individuals of the time wanted to flaunt exotic furs.

Source: The Viking Herald / #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayTravel

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1 Comment on "Vikings in Denmark wore beaver furs to show their high status, new research shows"

  1. After World War II, my Uncle John B. – who had been a teenage sailor aboard our USS Moray SS-300 sub off Japan in the closing months of the war – raised mink for their pelts for considerable money. Penned, they were vicious, but it would be unwise to cross them in the wild anyway.
    Note the closing scene involving sables in the excellent film Gorky Park, about this.
    The mink manure/feces was good fertilizer, and he gave a load to us to put on our lawn/grass in town. The stench was almost overwhelming – it being summer before air conditioners – so out of respect to the Lane we didn’t do that again.
    He eventually stopped doing this, which made our (extended) family happy.

    Happily, it is reported beavers are returning, even to Britain.

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