Dear Tom, Sheila et al.,
As dried cod is on the menu tonight I'll add my two pence worth :-). Having
surveyed much of the extant medieval and postmedieval historical and
iconographic evidence many years ago I was struck by the wide variety of
products (and names) associated with dried cod, be it simply air dried or
dried and salted. The archaeological evidence from across northwestern
Europe has since confirmed this variability. There were (perhaps
unfortunately) many ways to prepare a gadid fish for long-term storage!
For the early period, this problem is compounded by the fact that there are
no true Viking Age descriptions of the product. Fish are famously absent
from Ottar's late 9th century account of Arctic Norway for example.
Instead, we have medieval and postmedieval (largely 13th century and later)
accounts, some of which are fictionally set in the Viking Age. Thus
whatever label we choose for material from the Scandinavian Late Iron Age
will be arbitrary.
Given the above, the connection between label and archaeological product is
in many cases pure semantics. It is simply important to define ones terms.
I've preferred 'stockfish' for air dried products produced in a
Scandinavian cultural context (which is probably not far from most other
definitions, medieval and modern). These fish have, however, been sliced up
in variable ways through time and space, and according to species within
the gadid family.
For gadids that were both dried and salted, one can choose from labels such
as bacalao, haberdine, poor john, old ling (a product rather than species
in this case), lob, orgeys and klipfisk to name just a few. The
archaeologically recognised methods of butchery in consumer regions are
equally variable. To keep it simple I've used 'dry salt fish' in most of my
published work on the subject. Not very pretty, but you get what's on the
If you will forgive a shameless plug, for anyone interested in following
the cod and its relatives I am directing a new research programme regarding
"The Medieval Origins of Intensive Sea Fishing" (funded by the Leverhulme
Trust) which will try to track the development of cod fishing and fish
trade using both traditional zooarchaeological and biomolecular methods.
Please do get in touch if you have relevant material and would like to
collaborate. My sincere thanks to everyone who has kindly provided samples
All the best,
Dr. James H. Barrett
Department of Archaeology
The King's Manor
University of York
York, YO1 7EP
On Oct 19 2005, Thomas H. McGovern wrote:
> Dear Sheila,
> Oh Good, somebody does care! From the description it sounds like
> stockfish or something very like- for stockfish prep the atlas usually
> goes with the head (and is missing in the final product) and some of the
> upper (thoracic) verts tend to go too so our medieval Icelandic
> producing sites are full of atlas and heads. The size range is just
> perfect for classic stockfish too, and we know that the dried cod was
> used extensively for military and naval provisioning in the middle ages,
> so potentially you are looking a dried stockfish rather than salted cod.
> If it were flat dried rotscher or flat dried and salted klipfisk you
> would be missing all the thoracic verts and have only the cleithra and
> caudal verts. I wonder if the Tudor navy was consuming Nordic stockfish
> via the Germans or Dutch?
> Many thanks, will try to get the volume which sounds very cool.
> Thomas H McGovern
> Dept of Anthropology Hunter College CUNY
> Archaeology Coordinator,
> CUNY Doctoral Program in Anthropology
> Coordinator, North Atlantic Biocultural Organization
> Anthropology Dept.
> Hunter College
> 695 Park Ave. NYC 10021 USA
> tel. 212 772 5410 fax. 212 772 5423
> [log in to unmask]
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Analysis of animal remains from archaeological sites
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of S H-D
> Sent: Wednesday, October 19, 2005 10:35 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: [ZOOARCH] re fish butchery
> It does interest some of us! I wonder how this applies to later and
> post medieval? the terms do seem to be rather muddled (even in the
> past?) In the 'Mary Rose' volume 'Shipboard Life' which should be out by
> the end of the year, I have mainly referred to 'preserved fish' or
> 'salted fish' but have mentioned stockfish at least once and briefly
> discussed the name problem - some of the original documents we are using
> don't seem to be that clear either! 'my' cod were all beheaded but
> often had part of the cleithrum left in, the atlas and most of the first
> few vertebrae are missing. Estimates of the size seem to imply a very
> uniform 75-90 cm cod - which seems to tie in with Samuel Pepys
> stipulation of a 24 inch salted cod in his Navy supply lists (24 inch =
> 61 cm = beheaded from 80 ish!). Well anyway, for those interested I'll
> let you know when its finally published (by Oxbow/Wessex/Mary Rose)- its
> been a long gestation, not without problems and is still not the
> complete or perfect story! as well as the (small) offering on fish
> there's a big chunk on meat and provisioning in general (mostly by J P
> Coy) and loads of other classes of finds.
> SH-D ArchaeoZoology
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