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North Sea ArchaeologiesA Maritime Biography, 10,000 BC - AD 1500$
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Robert Van de Noort

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199566204

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199566204.001.0001

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Fish: exploring the sea as a taskscape

Fish: exploring the sea as a taskscape

4 Fish: exploring the sea as a taskscape
North Sea Archaeologies

Robert Van de Noort

Oxford University Press

Food and social identities are closely connected. The idea that ‘to be Mesolithic is to be a fisher’, with all the connotations that differentiate the Mesolithic fisher from the Neolithic farmer, characterizes some of the debates that are ongoing (e.g. Thomas 2003). Food and social identities are connected, especially in the case of societies of fishermen, for example in the wearing of distinctive national dress by the female relatives of fishermen in the Netherlands in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries (see chapter 2). However, we should not forget that fishing as a full-time occupation appears in the North Sea only around the 15th century AD, and that before that date fishing was only ever a part of people’s occupation and social identity (Kirby and Hinkkanen 2000; Fox 2001). Nevertheless, to be a successful fisher required skill, tools and knowledge of the tides and the movement of fish. All these created distinctive taskscapes where people’s daily engagement with the sea followed the rhythm of the tides, rather than that of the sun. This chapter considers the North Sea as a taskscape, focusing on the long history of fishing and fish consumption, and the current debates on the importance of fishing in our prehistoric and historic past. It presents a short overview of the role of fishing in the North Sea from the Mesolithic through to the 15th century AD, and the tools and craft used for this. Using anthropology and oral history research, the distinctive identities formed by fishing communities will be considered, and the chapter will ask whether this distinctiveness has a long heritage, or is of more recent date. The earliest indirect evidence for the use of marine resources in the North Sea basin goes, possibly, back to the tenth millennium cal BC. The zoo-archaeological evidence from the Galta peninsula in present-day south-west Norway, where flint points of the Ahrensburg complex have been discovered in redeposited beach sediments, has already been introduced (chapter 3; Prøsch-Danielsen and Høgestøl 1995). This evidence has been invoked to argue that south-west Norway was suited to reindeer hunting at the end of the Younger Dryas stadial, or very early Holocene.

Keywords:   Ahrensburg, Beakers, Caithness, Deventer, Essex, Fenland, Galta peninsula, Hensbacka, Ipswich, Jutland

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