Fish remains and humankind: part two

edited by

Andrew K G Jones * & Rebecca A Nicholson **

Cite this as: Jones, A. K. G. and Nicholson, R. 1998 Fish Remains and Humankind: part two. SPECIAL COLLECTION, Internet Archaeology 4.

The significance of aquatic resources to past human groups is not adequately reflected in the published literature - a deficiency which is gradually being acknowledged by the archaeological community world-wide. The publication of the following three papers goes some way to redress this problem.

Originally presented at an International Council of Archaeozoology (ICAZ) Fish Remains Working Group meeting in York, U.K. in 1987, these papers offer clear evidence of the range of interest in ancient fish remains across the world. Further papers from the York meeting were published in Internet Archaeology 3 in 1997.

Takács and Bartosiewicz survey the archaeological literature of Hungary for records of fishes and by so doing, highlight the long acknowledged difficulties of recovering interpretable assemblages of small and fragile fish remains from archaeological sediments and soils. This archaeoichthyological audit is an invaluable benchmark for further work in the area.

Ghaleb rises to the challenge of integrating ethnographic evidence gathered by one of the pioneers of anthropology, A.C. Haddon, with fish bones recovered from middens in the Torres Straits. From the anthropological evidence, we are able to gain insights into the division of labour, the diverse fishing methods and the variety of fishes contributing to the economy of the Torres Straits islanders at the end of the nineteenth century. The bones recovered from middens, lifeless fragments of once colourful animals hauled from sparkling tropical seas, bring into stark relief the nature of the challenge that faces every archaeologist.

Bullock and Jones provide some evidence of why the archaeological record is so often a pale reflection of life. Their simple experiment monitoring what happened to the remains of 20 herring and 5 mackerel discarded by a campsite in temperate rural Wales, clearly shows that most of the fish hard parts discarded by humans are of great interest to other organisms in the food web. Scavengers and decomposers physically move and presumably ingest and digest fish bones, thus scattering them and removing them from the record.

The limitations of traditional print publication are no longer a concern. The publication of these papers in this attractive format opens up innumerable possibilities for debate that were not available to us in 1987 and we actively seek your engagement with the issues raised. Further papers from the ICAZ workshop will be published in Internet Archaeology in the future.

See issues 3 and 7 for other contributions from this conference.

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* Dr Andrew K.G. Jones
York Archaeological Trust and the University of Bradford
Cromwell House
13 Ogleforth
tel: +44 1904 663000
fax: +44 1904 640029

** Rebecca A. Nicholson
Department of Archaeological Sciences<
University of Bradford
UK email:

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