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UCLan researchers uncover a capital fishy tale

Cod: UCLans Dr James Morris with some of the medieval fish bones he has found

Cod: UCLans Dr James Morris with some of the medieval fish bones he has found

There’s been some fishy goings on down in the archeology department at Preston’s university.

As the net widens in the search to uncover our past researchers,led by archaeologists from the University of Central Lancashire University College London and Cambridge, provides new insight into the medieval fish trade and the globalisation of London’s food supply.

Looking at data from nearly 3,000 cod bones found in 95 different excavations in and around the capital, they identified a sudden change in the origin of the fish during the early 13th century, indicating the onset of a large-scale import trade.

UCLan’s Dr James Morris was a co-author of the research project and extracted much of the data.

He said:“We were really surprised with the results, they showed a sudden shift from locally caught cod to imported preserved fillets in the early 13th century.”

Dr Morris added: “Using stable isotope analysis we were able to identify Norway was the most likely source of the cod imports.”

He added: “This could be an early example of overfishing, with a decrease in the local cod stocks meaning preserved fish had to be imported into London. It’s also a possibility that tastes changed and preserved fillets were preferred over freshly caught fish.

“We are planning further research to investigate.”

The researchers had expected to see a gradual increase in imports but their work revealed the opposite, with a sudden drop in demand for local cod as imports came in.

Cod were traditionally decapitated as part of preservation for long-range transport, so the researchers knew that head bones found during excavations must have been from fresh fish from relatively local waters.

The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Fishmongers’Company (London).

 

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