Urban Networks and Arctic Outlands : Craft Specialists and Reindeer Antler in Viking Towns

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Ashby, Steven P. ; Coutu, Ashley N. ; Sindbaek, Soren M. (2015)

This paper presents the results of the use of a minimally destructive biomolecular technique to explore the resource networks behind one of the first specialized urban crafts in early mediaeval northern Europe: the manufacture of composite combs of deer antler. The research incorporates the largest application of species identification by peptide mass fingerprinting (ZooMS) to a mediaeval artefact assemblage: specifically to collections of antler combs, comb manufacturing waste, and raw antler from Ribe, Aarhus, and Aggersborg. It documents the early use of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) antler, from the 780s ad at the latest, presenting the earliest unambiguous evidence for exchange-links between urban markets in the southern North Sea region and the Scandinavian Peninsula. The results demonstrate that the common conceptual distinction between urban hinterlands and long-distance trade conceals a vital continuity. Long-range networks were vital to urban activities from the first appearance of towns in this part of the world, preceding the historically documented maritime expansion of the Viking Age. We consequently suggest that urbanism is more appropriately defined and researched in terms of network dynamics than as a function of circumscribed catchment areas or hinterlands.
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