9.2.2 Fish Bones

Just under 1,000 fish fragments were recovered from the areas of the church and the west range. The bulk of the fish remains are of Gadidae, the cod family. Of the identified species cod dominates at 192 fragments, haddock is second at 111 fragments and ling follows with 68. There are some bones of large Gadidae which are too fragmented or undiagnostic for species determination but are likely to be also of these species. The smaller gadid, whiting, is also present. Remains of other species are infrequent; these are of rays (probably all thornback), salmon, gurnard, and flatfish (plaice or flounder). A summary of the species distribution is given for the West Range trenches, 1994 excavation sample, and the Church trench in Table 63.

Temporal patterns are difficult to discern as most periods contribute relatively few bones. Overall the high representation of large Gadidae is consistent. A division of the material into two broad groups, medieval/early post-medieval and 17th century to recent, appears to shift the emphasis of the Gadid species; the proportion of cod is higher in the more recent material.

Butchery marks are present on ten bones; all are large Gadidae. Half of these are precaudal vertebrae, three cod and one each of ling and haddock. The cuts on these bones would have been made during removal of the head; a similar transverse cut is present on a cod basioccipital (where the head joins the backbone). A vertically chopped ling cleithrum is also likely to be a result of beheading as this bone lies behind the gills. There are two cod jaws, from different individuals, which have been axially chopped implying that these fish had been split open with the head still attached. These fish may have been wind dried in the manner still practised today in Scandinavia.

Anatomical representation at other Aberdeen sites is biased in favour of the most resilient elements. Vertebrae and the most fragile head elements are few. At this site more of these elements have been recovered. This is best illustrated by the haddock bones; eleven head elements and many vertebrae are present as well as the expected large and sturdy hyperostosed cleithra which are often the only elements recovered (Table 64). There is still a bias in favour of this element; most haddock bones are small in comparison with the cleithrum and the fish itself is smaller than the large specimens of cod and ling present in Aberdeen material. The sieving undertaken at this site may be partly responsible for the improved recovery.

Of the other species three are new to the Aberdeen list. Whiting was recovered mainly, though not entirely, from sieving. Remains of gurnards and rays were obtained only from the sieved material, particularly from the pit AND north of the church. The gurnard bones are probably of the grey gurnard, a tasty offshore fish common on sandy bottoms all round northern Europe (Wheeler 1978). Remains of the cartilaginous rays were of teeth, denticles and bucklers (these last identified as thornback). These are valuable food fish, often marketed today as 'skate'. These species are not usually present in hand-collected material because of the small size of the remains. Despite the sieving and the presence of small species there are no bones of herring or eel. This absence has been repeated at other sites in Aberdeen but could not be confirmed, as sieving was not undertaken. This result, if repeated elsewhere in the city, is an important finding as most medieval and post-medieval urban assemblages contain large numbers of bones from these two species.


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