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Recovered Nettle Cloth in Denmark Sheds Light on Bronze Age Trade

Sep 30, 2012 02:38 PM EDT
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Researchers have retrieved a cloth made of nettle in Bronze Age burial mound Lusehøj, Denmark, which sheds light on long-distance trade connections during the period.

A team of international researchers from Denmark and Norway discovered a 2,800-year-old fabric cloth that was made using nettles. Nettles are made up of different species of flowering plants and were used in textiles to produce fine linen cloths. They are related to other textile plants like flax and hemp.

Earlier studies have suggested that the cloth was made of flax, a flowering plant that was cultivated in the region during that time. However, when the research team involved in the new study analyzed the cloth, they discovered it was made of nettles and dated back between 940 B.C. and 750 B.C., reported LiveScience.

They detected that the fabric was used to cover the bones of a rich Danish man who died years ago and placed in a bronze container also used as an urn. Nettles are not local to Denmark; when the researchers analyzed the strontium isotope levels in the plant's fibres they were in for a surprise when they found that the fabric cloth came all the way from Austria.

Strontium is an element present in the Earth's crust, but they are also present in water and food. The levels of the strontium isotopes vary depending on the geographical location. This, in turn, helped the experts to find out that the nettles were grown in an area having old bedrock which is found in central Europe.

"I expected the nettles to have grown in Danish soil on the island of Funen, but when I analysed the plant fibres, I could see that this was not the case," Karin Margarita Frei, from the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen, said in a news release.

"The levels indicate that the nettles grew in an area with geologically old bedrock. We can only find rock with similar levels of strontium isotope in Sweden and Norway as well as in Central Europe," she said.

Piecing all information together, experts predicted the possibility of how the cloth reached Denmark. Accordingly, about 2,800 years ago a bronze importer from Denmark might have died on his business trip to Austria. His bones were covered in nettles cloth and placed in the urn, which was later transported to Denmark, explained the researchers.

The new discovery sheds light on the textile trade in the Bronze Age. It was an agricultural era and people were engaged in trading with each other. The nettle cloth could possibly be a lavish product bought by the rich, the researchers pointed out.

The findings of the report are published in the journal of Scientific Reports.

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