skip to content

Department of Archaeology


Oceans Past Northern Seas Synthesis

Fish bones recovered from archaeological excavations provide one of the most direct windows onto past human use of marine resources, and how aquatic ecosystems have changed through time. They illuminate environmental and economic history, and can guide contemporary fisheries and conservation decisions. Hitherto, this evidence base has been informative but dispersed, in diverse (including unpublished) reports and many languages. The Oceans Past Northern Seas Synthesis aims to transform the value of this resource, the result of decades of meticulous specialist laboratory work, through quantitative meta-analysis and systematic data publication.

The project covers finds from around the Baltic, North, Irish, Celtic, Norwegian and Barents Seas, over the last two thousand years.  Pilot research, under the auspices of the Oceans Past Platform of COST (the European Cooperation in Science and Technology), already draws on c.1000 archaeological assemblages including approximately one million identified fish bones.

The data are proxies for environmental change. They reveal human impacts on aquatic ecosystems, including potential habitat changes and overfishing. They indicate economic and demographic developments, such as rising (and falling) urban demand, changing long-range trade and episodes of ecological globalization. They illuminate differing foodways, within and between social groups, which influenced the practices of both fishing and aquaculture.

The research will culminate in an atlas of changing human use of aquatic resources over the last two millennia, from Estonia to Ireland, Arctic Norway to the Rhineland – a resource for all who value the denizens of rivers, lakes and seas.



Project Partners

Rachel Ballantyne 1, Monica Dütting 2, Anton Ervynck 3, Sheila Hamilton-Dyer 4, Jennifer F. Harland 5, Poul Holm 6 Anne Karin Hufthammer 7, Hans Christian Küchelmann 8, Alison Locker 9, Lembi Lõugas 10, Daniel Makowieck i11, John Nicholls 6, Rebecca Nicholson 12, David C. Orton 13, Inge van der Jagt 14, Wim Van Neer 2, Wim Wouters 2


1- McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK

2- Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium

3- Flanders Heritage Agency, Brussels, Belgium

4- SH-D ArchaeoZoology, Southampton, UK

5- University of the Highlands and Islands, Kirkwall, UK

6- Centre for Environmental Humanities, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland

7- Department of Natural History, University Museum, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

8- German Maritime Museum, Leibniz Institute for German Maritime History, Bremerhaven, Germany

9- Escaldes-Engordany, Andorra

10- Archaeological Research Collection, Tallinn University, Tallinn, Estonia

11- Laboratory for Natural Environment Reconstruction, Institute of Archaeology, Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland

12- Oxford Archaeology, Oxford, UK

13- BioArCH, Department of Archaeology, University of York, York, UK

14- Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amersfoort, Netherlands


European Cooperation in Science and Technology

Project Lead

Project Tags

Environment, Landscapes and Settlement
Periods of interest: 
Geographical areas: 
Research Expertise / Fields of study: 
Archaeological Science
Powered by Drupal