Interpreting the expansion of sea fishing in medieval Europe using stable isotope analysis of archaeological cod bones

James H. Barrett*, David Orton, Cluny Johnstone, Jennifer Harland, Wim Van Neer, Anton Ervynck, Callum Roberts, Alison Locker, Colin Amundsen, Inge Bødker Enghoff, Sheila Hamilton-Dyer, Dirk Heinrich, Anne Karin Hufthammer, Andrew K G Jones, Leif Jonsson, Daniel Makowiecki, Peter Pope, Tamsin C. O'Connell, Tessa de Roo, Michael Richards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Archaeological fish bones reveal increases in marine fish utilisation in Northern and Western Europe beginning in the 10th and 11th centuries AD. We use stable isotope signatures from 300 archaeological cod (Gadus morhua) bones to determine whether this sea fishing revolution resulted from increased local fishing or the introduction of preserved fish transported from distant waters such as Arctic Norway, Iceland and/or the Northern Isles of Scotland (Orkney and Shetland). Results from 12 settlements in England and Flanders (Belgium) indicate that catches were initially local. Between the 9th and 12th centuries most bones represented fish from the southern North Sea. Conversely, by the 13th to 14th centuries demand was increasingly met through long distance transport - signalling the onset of the globalisation of commercial fisheries and suggesting that cities such as London quickly outgrew the capacity of local fish supplies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1516-1524
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of archaeological science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2011


  • Cod
  • Economic intensification
  • Middle ages
  • Stable isotopes
  • Trade
  • Urbanism

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