Archaeologists discovered the remains of a large-scale storage for fermented fish dating back to 7,200 BC: a view of the gutter after 50 percent of it had been removed; notice the stark contrast with the surrounding clay under the gutter as well as between the stakeholes and the surrounding clay. Image credit: SHMM / Adam Boethius / Lund University.
Feb 9, 2016 by Enrico de Lazaro
Archaeologists in Sweden say they have uncovered the remains of a 9,200-year-old storage for fermented fish.
Dr. Boethius of Lund University and his colleagues found roughly 200,000 fish bones at Norje Sunnansund, an Early Mesolithic settlement site in the Blekinge province of Sweden.
“The archaeological site of Norje Sunnansund is dated to around 9,600 – 8,600 years before present and is located in south-eastern Sweden, on the shores of the ancient Lake Vesan, next to a 2-km long outlet leading to the Baltic basin,” Dr. Boethius explained.
“We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find,” he added.
The archaeologists also uncovered a long pit surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones.
“It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” Dr. Boethius said.
“At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”
He analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish such as cyprinids (the carps, the true minnows, and their relatives), the European perch (Perca fluviatilis), the northern pike (Esox lucius), the ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua), the European eel (Anguilla anguilla), the burbot (Lota lota) and other species.
He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt.
“The fermentation process is also quite complex in itself,” said Dr. Boethius, who is an author of a paper published online February 6 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
“Because people did not have access to salt or the ability to make ceramic containers, they acidified the fish using, for example, pine bark and seal fat, and then wrapped the entire content in seal and wild boar skins and buried it in a pit covered with muddy soil. This type of fermentation requires a cold climate.”
“The discovery is unique as a find like this has never been made before,” he added. “That is partly because fish bones are so fragile and disappear more easily than, for example, bones of land animals. In this case, the conditions were quite favorable, which helped preserve the remains.”
“The amount of fish we found could have supported a large community of people,” the archaeologist said.
The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.
“These findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed,” Dr. Boethius said.
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