Dispersal of Fish Waste

Andrea E. Bullock and Andrew K.G. Jones

1.0 Introduction

Recent work in archaeozoology has emphasized the importance of understanding the processes which influence bone survival. A number of workers (Jones 1984, 1986; Payne and Munson 1985; Walters 1984) have embarked on programmes of experimental work to examine what happens to bones under controlled conditions.

There is a growing body of experimental data which convincingly demonstrates that large numbers of fish remains are lost from the potential archaeological record when fish are eaten, whether by man or other animals. However, it is highly unlikely that all fish bones were ingested. Much fish waste is likely to have been discarded onto yard surfaces or into pits, from whence it may have been dispersed by synanthropic species. The following experiment, carried out in July, 1986, was designed to observe what happens to fish waste left exposed on the ground surface.

Much of the experimental work concerned with the dispersal and survival of bones has been carried out in the arid or semi-arid regions. The purpose of the following work was to investigate the dispersal of hard tissues of small to medium sized fishes in temperate Europe.

2.0 Methods and materials

The heads and axial skeletons of 20 herring, Clupea harengus, and 5 mackerel, Scomber scombrus (Table 1), some with substantial amounts of flesh adhering, were placed on a 3 metre square area of freshly cleared soil within a lightly wooded stream valley close to the hillfort of Castell Henllys, Dyfed, South Wales. The fish waste was left for 5 weeks. Before the bones were collected, leaves and twigs which had partly covered the area during the experimental period were carefully removed. Bones observed on the surface were collected by hand.

To ensure that all bones were recovered, the area was trowelled to a depth of approximately 0.5 cm and all soil collected for later wet-sieving. In one corner a quadrat 50cm square was delineated and a further spit of topsoil collected, to a depth of approximately 1 cm, to recover any bones which may have become incorporated into the topsoil. The soil was washed on 1 mm mesh in a modified Siraf wet-sieving tank (Kenward et al. 1980) close to the site and the soil residues air-dried and sorted for fish bone in the laboratory.


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