CAIRO – 1 August 2022: A new study reveals that elite Vikings, especially Danish Vikings, wore beaver fur as a way to show their high social status.
This practice is not unlike the way clothing is worn by today's distinguished designers as a sign of prestige.
The beaver was not a native of Denmark, but the fur of this animal was a symbol of wealth, as well as an expensive and important commercial item in the 10th century.
The study, published in the journal PLOS One, focused on written sources. These sources indicate that beaver fur was a very important commodity between the ninth and eleventh centuries (800-1050 AD).
However, the rapid decay rate of fur makes it difficult to study using archaeological remains. This prompted researchers from the University of Copenhagen to analyze the proteins left in the fur, rather than the DNA. They relied on the survival rate of keratin, a protein responsible for the formation of hair, fur, nails and skin. Keratin is a stable molecule, allowing for better survival.
Two different mass spectrometry methods were used to match the keratin sequences in the public database. Keratin can be very flexible under the right conditions, because the main reason it breaks down is due to certain bacteria in the environment that feed on it. Therefore, if they can survive in an environment where these bacteria are hard to reach, like anaerobic conditions, they can sustain them for a long time.
Animal remains used in six Viking tombs were analyzed. These tombs were for Vikings from the upper classes of Danish society in the tenth century. Although no DNA was recovered from the sample, this was only an indication that the processing operations on the fur and leather did not allow for preservation.