Iron Age bog bodies reveal new data through protein analysis

The new method analysing proteins in the fibres of the cloths or skin of mummified Iron Age bog bodies sheds new light on habits of Europeans living 2000 years ago. Proteins provided species recognition in 11 out of 12 samples and confirmed previous microscopic identification. Luise Brandt, leading the study, stated that the method allows to differentiate between different animal wool, f. ex. between goat’s or sheep’s.

Wool from Huldre Fen Woman’s cloak (by ScienceNordic)
Wool from Huldre Fen (also known as Huldremose) Woman’s cloak (by ScienceNordic)

The proteins, which are preserved ten times longer than DNA, showing the composition of amino acids in the various material changes according to animal species. This allows to identify the species. Twelve samples were analysed, obtained from cloaks and a tunic that were part of the Danish National Museum’s collection of 2000 year old leather suits, preserved at a number of archaeological sites in Jutland, West Denmark. The analysis positively identified the animal species in 11 out of 12 samples – two from cattle, three from goat and six from sheep. One sample’s results were inconclusive. The results suggested that that Iron Age garments were made exclusively from the skins of domesticated animals, including young ones, and not wild animals as it is commonly believed.

Huldre Fen Woman’s cloak (by ScienceNordic)
Huldre Fen Woman’s cloak (by ScienceNordic)

The archaeologists believe that the choice of material was conscious, as calfskin is softer and more flexible than skin from older animals. The recent data provides new insight into the iron age people and their society. The livestock was not only bread for food but served a wider purpose. Not only the meat was the product of slaughtering the animals but skin and other parts of the animal served an important purpose as well.

Red dots indicate placing of samples from cloaks and tunic (by ScienceNordic)
Red dots indicate placing of samples from cloaks and tunic (by ScienceNordic)

(after ScienceNordic)

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