Microscopic identification of feathers from 7th century boat burials at Valsgärde in Central Sweden: Specialized long-distance feather trade or local bird use?
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 2021, . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2021.102828
The warriors in the well-equipped, high-rank 7th–8th century boat burials at Valsgärde in Central Sweden were lying in feather stuffed beds. Feathers, especially from Common Eider, are known as trade commodities from the coast of North Norway from the 15th century onwards, but written sources indicate that it started much earlier. The main goal of this investigation was thus to see if the feathers from two of the boat burials, Valsgärde 7 and 8, showed any indications of such specialized long-distance trade of certain bird species. Various levels of bird identifications were obtained through microscopic analysis of the ancient feathers. Some of these identifications were corroborated with avian bones in the two burials and from a contemporary farm close to the burials. In this way a remarkably large variety of birds, among them Eagle Owl, was identified. The birds are likely to have been present in the surrounding areas including the nearby coast of the Baltic Sea. Therefore, the feathers do not suggest long-distance trade, but appear as a new source of knowledge of local bird fauna in archaeological sites. Scandinavian folklore and Islandic Sagas indicated that the feathers had a special meaning, in connection with death and shamanism. The investigations could not confirm long-distance trade with feathers, but gave new perspectives on the use and cultural significance of birds in the Late Iron Age in Scandinavia.