Researchers Trawl The Origins Of Sea Fishing In Northern Europe

April 19, 2006

For decades the study of fish bones was considered one of the most esoteric branches of archaeology, but now it is helping to reveal the massive significance of the fishing trade in the Middle Ages.

New research co-ordinated by archaeologists at the University of York will spotlight the earliest development of Europe's sea fisheries and, given the continuous expansion of sea fishing since the Middle Ages, the ultimate origin of today's fishing crisis.

The three-year project, financed by the Leverhulme Trust and also supported by HMAP, the historical branch of the Census of Marine Life, will involve researchers across Northern Europe.

It builds on earlier research by the project team which discovered that extensive sea fishing began in Europe 1,000 years ago. A major shift from freshwater to sea fishing was due to a combination of climate, population growth and religion.

Dr James Barrett, of the University of York's Department of Archaeology, who is co-ordinating the project, has pinpointed the century between 950AD and 1050AD as the critical period when this fisheries revolution took place.

By studying fish bones from archaeological sites such as York, Gent in Belgium, Ribe in Denmark, Schleswig in Germany and Gdansk in Poland, the researchers hope to establish what long-term impact this rapid switch to intensive sea fisheries had on medieval trading patterns. In York, the vast collections assembled by York Archaeological Trust will provide material for the bone study.

Dried cod was traded from the Arctic in the Middle Ages and, around 1000AD, trade routes opened up across the Viking world to allow long-range trading of bulk staple goods.

Dr Barrett said: "We are using the fish trade as a way of understanding long-term economic and social changes in Northern Europe. We want to look at how a large-scale trade in commodities developed and the way it has been influenced by so many socio-economic and environmental factors."

"We shall use both traditional zooarchaeological techniques and new biomolecular approaches. Dried cod for trade was cut up in certain ways, which can be detected by the cut marks on the bones. Moreover, we will use biomolecular tests to establish whether fish found in towns such as York originated locally from the North Sea or from distant sources such as Arctic Norway."

The biomolecular studies may also provide a direct insight into changes in marine ecosystems and help to improve understanding of the early human impact on fish stocks. The project aims to link an understanding of medieval economic development with the pressing current need to know what marine ecosystems were like before the impact of over-fishing.

The project will depend on interdisciplinary and international cooperation. Its core members, drawn from five European countries, include zooarchaeologists, biomolecular methods experts and a fisheries ecologist, supported by a team of international collaborators, whose expertise covers Northern Europe, from Estonia to Arctic Norway.

Copyright 2006 by Space Daily, Distributed United Press International

Explore further: Offshore wind farms could be more risky for gannets than previously thought, study shows

Related Stories

Federal officials investigate walrus deaths in Alaska

September 25, 2015

Two groups of Pacific walrus have been found dead along the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska. One incident is the subject of a criminal investigation. The other has been blamed on natural causes.

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

Internet giants race to faster mobile news apps

October 4, 2015

US tech giants are turning to the news in their competition for mobile users, developing new, faster ways to deliver content, but the benefits for struggling media outlets remain unclear.

Trade in invasive plants is blossoming

October 3, 2015

Every day, hundreds of different plant species—many of them listed as invasive—are traded online worldwide on auction platforms. This exacerbates the problem of uncontrollable biological invasions.

Fusion reactors 'economically viable' say experts

October 2, 2015

Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, and policy makers should start planning to build them as a replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, according ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.