4.4 Ecozones of human activity and resource supply patterns

Using the faunal assemblage (Table 1), three ecological zones can be distinguished: terrestrial, near to the shore/inshore, and marine zones. The plant macrofossil and palynological analysis suggests the site was close to a mixed oak forest (Hartz et al. 2011), thus giving the inhabitants of the site access to all three zones. Were prehistoric humans equally active and mobile in all three ecological zones or did they favour specific ecozones for their main prey?

Terrestrial resources were intensively exploited as shown by the frequencies of terrestrial mammals, accounting for approximately 63% (NISP) of the total mammal assemblage (Table 1). Besides that, the inhabitants benefited from other terrestrial resources by gathering hazelnuts and shed red deer antlers (Glykou 2011b).

Seal hunting, as described above, was practised mainly near the shore, on the land in the case of grey seals or on pack ice in the case of harp seal pups, which spend their first weeks exclusively on ice (Sergeant 1991), rendering them vulnerable and easy prey. Another activity that can also be ascribed to exploitation of near-shore resources is freshwater fishing. However, freshwater fish such as perch, zander and cyprinids are represented at extremely low frequencies, accounting for less than 4% of the fish species (Schmölcke et al. 2007). Waterfowl birds consisting mainly of Anatidae indicate near-shore exploitation.

Cetaceans – dolphins and harbour porpoises – are pelagic species and their presence among the faunal remains of Neustadt suggests exploitation of marine resources. These species can be caught either offshore, if hunters are experienced and have the appropriate maritime technologies, or near to the shore, most likely when sick animals approach the coastline or when disorientated animals are trapped in shallow waters. Dolphins do not belong to the common fauna of the Baltic Sea but they are frequently encountered there, entering from the North Atlantic perhaps in search of food or following shoals of fish. Bones from big whales such as the killer whale have been found in the late Mesolithic sites of Tybrind Vig (Trolle 2013) and Ronaes Skov (Enghoff 2009). It has been suggested that such whales might have entered the Baltic Sea attracted by the frequent presence of seals in this region (Trolle 2013). In any case, since dolphins or bigger whales do not belong to the common fauna of the Baltic Sea, they could not have been hunted regularly there.

The small harbour porpoise – the only whale species common in the Baltic Sea – is represented in the faunal assemblage by at least six animals according to the MNI and has relatively high frequencies in terms of NISP (Table 1). Lots of the harbour porpoise bones display cut marks, showing that the animals were exploited by humans. Even if there is no direct evidence for hunting small whales, such as bone lesions caused by hunting weapons, their high frequencies demonstrate that they were a desirable and regular prey. Did hunters chase and kill harbour porpoises or did they take advantage of stranded or sick animals that had approached the shoreline? Late Ertebølle Culture hunters had already developed their maritime technologies and equipment to such a degree that they must have been able to undertake offshore trips. In several Mesolithic sites dugout canoes and paddles have been recovered (Andersen 2011; 2013), demonstrating the maritime character of these sites and the mental orientation of hunters to marine resources. Harpoons, which have been interpreted as the principal hunting weapon used for seals (Andersen 1997), might also have been utilised to hunt harbour porpoises. Still, offshore hunting trips targeting small whales can be perilous, demanding participation of several experienced hunters, boats and good coordination (e.g. Piana 2005). Hunting harbour porpoises in the south-western Baltic Sea could not have been as dangerous as hunting big whales in an ocean, but it could not have been carried out by one hunter alone. Hunting harbour porpoises in historical times occurred in the narrows of the Little Belt in Denmark by taking advantage of the migration of the porpoises and the narrow topography of the region, which made the capture of porpoises easier (Trolle 2013). Because of the lack of any evidence of specialised offshore hunting trips targeting small whales, it would be reasonable to assume either that harbour porpoises were captured near the shore and eventually killed by spearing them with harpoons from the boats or that hunters simply exploited stranded animals.

Besides the presence of cetaceans, the economic importance of offshore/marine prey for the inhabitants of Neustadt is also evidenced by the presence of marine fish species such as cod, flatfish, herring, garfish and mackerel. Marine fish dominate the fish assemblage and indicate high marine conditions for the Baltic Sea at the time the site was occupied (Schmölcke and Ritchie 2010). Hence these highly marine species could have been caught either offshore by using dugout canoes or near the shore, provided that fishing took place during their spawning seasons.

Consequently, the exploitation of aquatic resources consisted partly of inshore/near-shore prey, such as freshwater fish and waterfowl birds, but mainly targeted highly marine resources such as marine fish and marine mammals. Marine prey was most likely caught inshore, taking into account the availability of various resources in this ecozone. At the same time, such a subsistence strategy reduces the high risk to the hunters associated with hunting or fishing in open waters. In this manner the ecological zones of human activity and the ecological zones of resource supply are diversified.