4.5 Specialised, selective or opportunistic?

Specialised hunting is used to characterise a faunal assemblage dominated by one species (Rivals et al. 2004), while the term 'specialised' is used to characterise the function of a site if one particular activity dominates (hunting, fishing, etc.). Selective hunting refers to prey selection patterns targeting specific nutrient resources (meat, bone marrow, blood and organs) or raw materials (fur, skin, bones for tool industry, fat and blubber) within a faunal assemblage based on age structure and seasonality. Specialised hunting does not necessarily involve selective hunting if there is no prey selection based on age and sex (Rivals et al. 2004). Game acquisition processes are very complex as they depend on numerous ecological (seasonal migrations and social behaviour of game), topographical (game accessibility) as well as anthropological factors (hunter´s perception of hunting, degree of understanding of animal behaviour, available hunting equipment), many of which are difficult or impossible to detect in an archaeological context. Still, utilisation of as much as possible of the available information derived from an archaeological context can contribute significantly to a more holistic reconstruction of the exploitation patterns. In order to explore whether exploitation of marine mammals in Neustadt implies specialised hunting and/or whether it is possible to recognise prey selection patterns, some key aspects were considered together: a) relative abundances and diversity of the entire faunal assemblage b) economic significance based on cut marks, c) age structure and seasonality based on kill-off patterns, d) palaeoecological approach in relation to the natural abundance of the game at the time of use of the site, and/or specific seasonal game behaviour, and e) character of the site as it is reconstructed based on all available find categories.

The relative abundances of the mammalian faunal assemblage show dominance of terrestrial game both in terms of NISP (61.5%) and MNI (65%). Additionally, the broad range of species represented in the faunal assemblage implies diverse hunting, both in terms of NISP and MNI. Consequently, both the high diversity of the faunal assemblage and the dominance of terrestrial fauna among the hunted mammals provide no evidence for specialised seal hunting in Neustadt. Nevertheless, the high frequencies of marine mammals, with 37% NISP and 26% MNI, together with fish, as well as the ratio of marine to terrestrial, which is estimated for selected sectors of the site at 10:1 by individual skeletal parts (NISP) – show the focus was strongly on the exploitation of maritime resources.

As far as the economic significance is concerned using the analysis of cut marks, the same processing patterns, skinning, dismemberment and defleshing, are consistent across all age groups of seals. Thus, fur from pups, skin from sub-adults and adult seals, and meat from all age groups were fully exploited by the hunters. Hence, no prey selection depending on a specific resource (fur, skin, meat) or specific age group could be identified among the seals.

The presence of two main age groups of harp seals, yearlings and adults, has been linked to two different hunting seasons, one in late autumn and one in spring, based on the annual life circle of these seal species: birth-migration-return to breeding grounds. These two hunting seasons have been interpreted as potentially having different supply targets (Glykou 2013): hunting in spring could be primarily aimed at obtaining meat and skin, on the grounds that during the breeding and the following moulting period the total weight of adult female seals decreases to a dramatic extend (Sergeant 1991). Hunting in autumn could primarily have been aimed at seals' fat reserves (Glykou 2013), since seals feed heavily during the summer in their summer feeding grounds and reach their maximum weight when they come back to their breeding grounds (Sergeant 1991). Do the two hunting seasons really reflect a conscious choice of the hunters, who aimed at specific resources – primarily meat or blubber depending on the season?

By contemplating the annual life cycle of harp seals, which start their migration after moulting is completed in late spring, and return to their breeding grounds in late autumn, then harp seals were present at their breeding grounds during these seasons. Considering that a harp seal breeding colony existed close to the site (Glykou 2011b), it can be assumed that hunters in Neustadt simply took advantage of the natural abundances of seals and resource availability near to their occupation or catch sites. Consequently, harp seal hunting in spring and autumn corresponds to the seasonal migrations of the species.

The character of the site has been reconstructed based on all available find categories (Glykou 2011b): Plant remains and palynological analyses showed that the site was near a mixed oak forest (Hartz et al. 2011). That offered the inhabitants of the site a varied diet and ideal opportunities for gathering and exploiting raw material resources such as wood, deer antlers and hazelnuts (Glykou 2011b). Thus, Neustadt presents an ideal example of the coastal hunting and fishing stations of the terminal Mesolithic and earliest Neolithic commonly found in southern Scandinavia, which predominantly concentrate at coastal marine or freshwater systems (Andersen 1995; 2008; Terberger et al. 2009), and take advantage of both terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

In conclusion, the high frequencies of seals, and especially harp seals, in Neustadt are to be seen as the result of opportunistic hunting patterns, as obviously hunters took full advantage of the existing available natural resources.