How seals were hunted has been extensively presented and discussed in previous papers (Andersen 1997; Zagorska 2000; Glykou 2013). Previous archaeological work relevant to this study has revealed several important hunting techniques used to capture and kill seals. In several Mesolithic and early Neolithic archaeological sites from Southern Scandinavia and northern Germany different types of harpoons have been recovered and interpreted as the main weapon for hunting seals (Andersen 1997; Ickerodt 2013), particularly after a seal skeleton with a harpoon embedded in the scapula was found in Näpriö, on the west coast of Finland (Forstén and Ahlonen 1975; Zagorska 2000; Ukkonen 2002). Harpoons made of roe deer antler and two half-finished examples made of red deer antler were among the finds from Neustadt and imply their use for marine mammal hunting (Glykou 2011b; 2013).
An impact rib injury with a lithic projectile embedded in the bone has been previously seen as direct evidence for the use of a bow and arrow when hunting (Glykou 2013, fig. 6). Even if this hunting method is common for terrestrial mammals, it is the first time that we have such evidence for hunting marine mammals (Glykou 2013). The Inuit are known to use a bow and arrow to hunt seals (Henshaw 2000).
Observations on the fragmentation of skulls led to the conclusion that different hunting methods were used for different seal species. In fact the skulls of grey seals were extensively fragmented, unlike the postcranial skeleton and the skulls of harp seals. These fractures were caused before their deposition in the sediment. They cannot have originated during processing the skull in order to extract the brain because, firstly, one would have expected that both grey and harp seal skulls should have been treated similarly, and secondly, extended fractures on the forehead do not exclusively occur when obtaining the brain. Consequently, the different preservation of skulls between harp and grey seals has been interpreted as the result of killing grey seals by hitting them on the forehead with clubs (Glykou 2013), a practice widely known from ethnoarchaeological records and commonly used up to modern times (Clark 1946; Boyle 2005). Grey seals prefer to breed on the coast and are thus easier to reach than harp seals, which breed on pack ice. These different species-dependent hunting practices suggest deep knowledge of the behaviour and habitat of the animals.
The presence of seal pups among the fauna indicates hunting during the breeding season. In this case not only pups but also females must have been killed, since female seals tend to stay close to their offspring during the lactation period and that makes them more vulnerable. Harp seals in particular form large colonies during the breeding season, making them available in large numbers for prehistoric hunters. All these observations on hunting strategies, together with the indication that different hunting methods were used between harp and grey seals, illustrate that prehistoric hunters were fully aware of the particular social behaviour and habitat of each species and show strong adaptation of their hunting practices to each species respectively.
Prey management in Neustadt can be reconstructed according to the observed position of cut marks on the skeleton and the frequencies of bones with high meat utility value. As mentioned above, all seal species were processed similarly and were exploited for their skin, meat and eventually blubber independent of their age. The frequencies of skeletal elements with rich and low meat utility values suggest that seals were brought whole from the kill site, either portioned in smaller and, thus, more transferable units or complete. Based on both ethnographic studies and archaeological evidence on Inuit household economies, it appears that the transport of the whole seal from the kill to the occupational site for processing was a common practice (Henshaw 1999). An alternate hypothesis would be that seals were partly processed at the kill site, including skinning and perhaps dismemberment, since that would enable the hunters to transport adult harp and grey seals more easily. In this case, all body parts were transported to the site, including the flippers, which apparently remained attached to other units.
Unlike the bones from terrestrial animals, the long bones from pinnipeds do not show any recognisable intentional breakages that could have originated during bone marrow extraction, tool production or food portioning. This is most likely due to physiological and anatomical reasons. Pinniped bones have a much higher mineral density compared to bones from terrestrial mammals and the medullary cavity consists of trabecular bone, making the breakage and extraction of bone marrow undesirable work for hunters (Lyman et al. 1992; Lyman 1994), who could gain the required bone marrow more easily from terrestrial prey. Similarly, due to their short and compact shape, pinniped bones are not the most appropriate raw material for making tools, at least not when bones from red deer, elk, roe deer, and dog were available. Bones from such animals – mainly antlers, metapodial bones and ulna – were processed for tool production, as is evident from both the tools and bone debris resulting from tool production (Glykou 2011b).