Microstructural, chemical and isotopic evidence for the origin of late neolithic leather recovered from an ice field in the Swiss Alps

Spangenberg, Jorge E.; Ferrer, Montserrat; Tschudin, Pascal; Volken, Marquita; Hafner, Albert (2010). Microstructural, chemical and isotopic evidence for the origin of late neolithic leather recovered from an ice field in the Swiss Alps. Journal of archaeological science, 37, pp. 1851-1865. Elsevier

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Archaeological leather samples recovered from the ice field at the Schnidejoch Pass (altitude 2756 m amsl) in the western Swiss Alps were studied using optical, chemical molecular and isotopic (δ13C and δ15N of the bulk leather, and compound-specific δ13C analyses of the organic-solvent extracted fatty acids) methods to obtain insight into the origin of the leather and ancient tanning procedures. For comparison, leathers from modern native animals in alpine environment (red deer, goat, sheep, chamois, and calf/cow) were analyzed using the same approach. Optical and electron microscopically comparisons of Schnidejoch and modern leathers showed that the gross structure (pattern of collagen fibrils and intra-fibrils material) of archaeological leather had survived essentially intact for five millennia. The SEM studies of the hairs from the most important archaeological find, a Neolithic leather legging, show a wave structure of the hair cuticle, which is a diagnostic feature for goatskins. The variations of the bulk δ13C and δ15N values, and δ13C values of the main fatty acids are within the range expected for pre-industrial temperate C3 environment. The archaeological leather samples contain a mixture of indigenous (from the animal) and exogenous plant/animal lipids. An important amount of waxy n-alkanes, n-alkan-1-ols and phytosterols (β-sitosterol, sitostanol) in all samples, and abundant biomarker of conifers (nonacosan-10-ol) in the legging leathers clearly indicate that the Neolithic people were active in a subalpine coniferous forest, and that they used an aqueous extract of diverse plant material for tanning leather.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of Archaeological Sciences > Pre- and Early History

UniBE Contributor:

Hafner, Albert


900 History > 930 History of ancient world (to ca. 499)








Albert Hafner-Lafitte

Date Deposited:

03 Oct 2014 09:46

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:37





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