Abstract

The growth of medieval cities in Northern Europe placed new demands on food supply, and led to the import of fish from increasingly distant fishing grounds. Quantitative analysis of cod remains from London provides revealing insight into the changing patterns of supply that can be related to known historical events and circumstances. In particular it identifies a marked increase in imported cod from the thirteenth century AD. That trend continued into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, after a short downturn, perhaps attributable to the impact of the Black Death, in the mid fourteenth century. The detailed pattern of fluctuating abundance illustrates the potential of archaeological information that is now available from the high-quality urban excavations conducted in London and similar centres during recent decades.

Highlights

  • Marine fisheries for species such as cod have long played a crucial role in the economy of northern Europe (Holm et al 1996; Starkey et al 2009), supplying the growing cities of the North Sea and Baltic Sea basins and influencing political events from the rise

  • Stratigraphic unit, environmental sample number, anatomical element and context-level dating were assembled from a combination of published reports, grey literature and raw data supplied by several institutions and individuals—notably the archives of Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and those of co-author Alison Locker

  • Apart from around 70 Roman-period specimens and a handful from Saxon London, cod only became common within a few decades of AD 1000, matching the national picture (Barrett et al 2004)

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Summary

Introduction

Marine fisheries for species such as cod have long played a crucial role in the economy of northern Europe (Holm et al 1996; Starkey et al 2009), supplying the growing cities of the North Sea and Baltic Sea basins and influencing political events from the riseC Antiquity Publications Ltd. Research of the German Hansa in the thirteenth century AD (Nedkvitne 1994; Dollinger 1999) to the composition of the present-day European Union Their contribution to Europe’s economic and environmental history remains patchily understood, in the centuries before the introduction of systematic customs records, the earliest of which (from England) begin in 1303 (Lloyd 1991: 23–24). This study reveals a remarkable earlythirteenth-century surge in imports of cod, following a previously documented revolution in local sea fishing around AD 1000 (Barrett et al 2004, 2011). It highlights subsequent vacillations in the exploitation of this species that improve our understanding of North Sea and North Atlantic trade. Increases in ship capacities and the Viking Age diaspora might have combined to stimulate the development of this trade (Barrett et al 2004)

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