MALDI-TOF MS spectra of archaeological whale bone specimens from Atlantic Europe

  • Youri van den Hurk (Creator)
  • Fanny Sikström (Creator)
  • Luc Amkreutz (Creator)
  • Maddy Bleasdale (Creator)
  • Aurélia Borvon (Creator)
  • Brice Ephrem (Creator)
  • Carlos Fernández-Rodríguez (Creator)
  • Hannah Gibbs (Creator)
  • Leif Johnsson (Creator)
  • Alexander Lehouck (Creator)
  • Jose Martínez Cedeira (Creator)
  • Stefan Meng (Creator)
  • Rui Monge Soares (Creator)
  • Marta Moreno (Creator)
  • Mariana Nabais (Creator)
  • Carlos Nores (Creator)
  • José Antonio Pis Millán (Creator)
  • Ian Riddler (Creator)
  • Ulrich Schmölcke (Creator)
  • Martin Segschneider (Creator)
  • Camilla Filomena Speller (Creator)
  • Maria Vretemark (Creator)
  • Stephen Wickler (Creator)
  • Matthew James Collins (Creator)
  • Marie-Josée Nadeau (Creator)
  • James Barrett (Creator)



Whale bones are regularly found during archaeological excavations. Identification of these specimens to taxonomic levels is problematic due to their fragmented state. This lack of taxonomic resolution limits understanding of the past spatiotemporal distributions of whale populations and reconstructions of early whaling activities. To overcome this challenge, we performed Zooarchaeology by Mass-Spectrometry on an unprecedented selection of 719 archaeological and palaeontological specimens of probable whale bone from Atlantic European contexts, from the Middle to Late Neolithic (c.3500–2500 BCE) to the eighteenth century CE. The results show high numbers of Balaenidae (most likely North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)) and grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) specimens, two species no longer present in the eastern North Atlantic. Many of these specimens derive from contexts associated with the known medieval whaling cultures of the Basques, northern Spaniards, Normans, Flemish, Frisians, Anglo-Saxons, and Scandinavians. This association raises the likelihood that pre-industrial whaling impacted these taxa, contributing to their extinction and extirpation respectively. Much lower numbers of other large whale taxa were identified, suggesting that it was once abundant and accessible whales that suffered the greatest long-term impact. The pattern of natural abundance leading to over-exploitation, well-documented for other taxa, is thus applicable to early whaling.

External deposit with Dryad.
Date made available8 Sept 2023

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