6. Case Study: prehistoric fishing and hunting on Scilly

Scilly is ideally suited for both inshore and offshore fishing as it stands at both the southern and northern limit of the migratory range of various fish and marine mammals; it thus holds exceptionally rich fishing grounds (MAFF 1981). The preservation of prehistoric fish bones and the bones of marine mammals in the acidic soils of Scilly is sporadic. However, in spite of potentially poor preservation, an impressive dataset of species can be attributed to the archipelago (Ratcliffe and Straker 1996; Robinson 2007).

Fishing and hunting of sea mammals requires a detailed temporal and spatial knowledge of the marine environment. Localised movement within Scillonian waters is demonstrated through the presence of shallow and deep-water fish species, identified from prehistoric midden deposits (Turk 1967; 1978; 1984a; 1984b; Neal 1983; Ratcliffe and Straker 1996; Robinson 2007). The off-shore location of Scilly within the Atlantic, and as a result the deep waters adjacent to the islands, makes it difficult to distinguish between inshore and off-shore fishing practices. However, the correlation of fish species present from particular eco-zones demonstrates clearly that these prehistoric seafarers, in the pursuit of fish and sea mammals, visited a variety of shallow and deep-water locales. The boats used by these fishers were most likely skinboats similar to the Irish currach: light, manoeuvrable and well suited to the open Atlantic swell (McGrail 1987, 173-91). The skill of these prehistoric fishing communities and the effectiveness of their fishing technology are demonstrated through the presence of large specimens of fish and species associated with deep-water environments. Many of the fish present are migratory and seasonal (Robinson 2007) Fishing locales and the seasonal movements of fish would thus have been central to prehistoric Scillonian fishing knowledge. Evidence for the hunting of sea mammals is also well represented in the midden deposits from Bronze Age settlements. Seals are the predominant species hunted, although evidence for whales and dolphins is also present.


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