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Archaeogenetic study of animal hairs

Dr. Elena Nikulina

The medieval castle Lenzen in Brandenburg had supra-regional significance. It was founded in the 10th century by pagan Slavs on the border to the sphere of Christian influence. The castle developed quickly to an important central place. Extensive excavations during the last ten years showed an extremely good preservation of organic materials. This fact is a result of the imbedding of the organic material in dung. It was used by the inhabitants of the castle to fill older cultivation layers. In a post house with wood-planking floor and wickerwork walls, some aggregations of animal hair have been found. Partly the hair still sticks to skin parts. Such findings like hair, skin, cartilage, horn, hoofs and feathers are very seldom because non-mineralized tissue and organic body parts decomposed rapidly after the death of an organism.

Wolle von der Feddersen Wierde

In a research project common with the Brandenburg Monument Preservation Office in Wünsdorf (Susanne Jahns, Susanne Hanik, Heike Kennecke) and the Zoological Institute of the Kiel University (Stanislav N. Gorb) the hairs were examined using light- and electron-microscopy as well as genetic methods. The light-microscopy and genetic study were done in the ZBSA, the electron-microscopic pictures were obtained in the department for Functional Morphology and Biomechanics in the Zoological Institute.
Morphologically, the hair from Lenzen shows a similar appearance, characteristic for Ruminantia. The thickness and the course of the mark canal pointed to cattle. Results of genetic study supported morphological identification and in addition, excluded the possibility that the findings are of the wild cattle, aurochs.
For the first time in Central Europe ancient DNA from animal hair has been successfully studied. The result is also of cultural-historical interest. Since the Middle Ages wickerwork was strengthened by the admixture of hay or animal hair, predominantly of cattle. It is well possible that the hair from the castle to springs was of this function: strengthening of the house wall.

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