Antlers far and wide: Biomolecular identification of Scandinavian hair combs from Ribe, Denmark, 720–900 CE

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We used biomolecular methods to identify the faunal species present in hair combs and associated workshop debris discovered at the site Posthustorvet in the trading town of Ribe, Denmark, in contexts dated 720–900 CE. The finds included four unusual combs that have an uncommon but geographically characteristic ‘Scandinavian-type’ style, crafted from deer antler, and found in contexts 720–740 CE. They were identified as moose (Alces alces) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) using a combination of peptide mass fingerprinting (ZooMS) and ancient DNA analysis. Our study provides the first confirmed use of moose antler combs in Denmark in the Late Iron Age/Viking Age. Neither moose or reindeer occurred naturally at that time in Denmark, and their closest habitats in the eighth century were on the Scandinavian Peninsula. Based on mitochondrial DNA, the comb identified as moose belonged to the western European mitogenome group, which has been identified in contemporary samples from Scandinavia and Poland, and in one early Holocene sample from Germany. Comparison with other comb finds and extensive workshop debris from the Posthustorvet site reflect a range of different comb-types and raw materials. Our ZooMS and DNA findings, in the context of the absence of associated workshop debris of moose or reindeer during the early phases of the site, support that the four early ‘Scandinavian-type’ combs were brought to the site as finished items by travellers. Our results confirm that visitors from the Scandinavian Peninsula were present in Ribe, a place of trade at the southern edge of the North Sea, in the early eighth century, half a century before the maritime expansion of the Viking Age.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105773
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors

    Research areas

  • Ancient DNA, Biogeography, Hair combs, Moose, Reindeer, Trade, ZooMS

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