Peptide mass fingerprinting of preserved collagen in archaeological fish bones for the identification of flatfish in European waters

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Bones of Pleuronectiformes (flatfish) are often not identified to species due to the lack of diagnostic features on bones that allow adequate distinction between taxa. This hinders in-depth understanding of archaeological fish assemblages and particularly flatfish fisheries throughout history. This is especially true for the North Sea region, where several commercially significant species have been exploited for centuries, yet their archaeological remains continue to be understudied. In this research, eight peptide biomarkers for 18 different species of Pleuronectiformes from European waters are described using MALDI-TOF MS and liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry data obtained from modern reference specimens. Bone samples ( n = 202) from three archaeological sites in the UK and France dating to the medieval period ( ca seventh-sixteenth century CE) were analysed using zooarchaeology by mass spectrometry (ZooMS). Of the 201 that produced good quality spectra, 196 were identified as flatfish species, revealing a switch in targeted species through time and indicating that ZooMS offers a more reliable and informative approach for species identification than osteological methods alone. We recommend this approach for future studies of archaeological flatfish remains as the precise species uncovered from a site can tell much about the origin of the fish, where people fished and whether they traded between regions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number220149
Number of pages20
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2022

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