Fish Trade in Norse Orkney and Caithness: A Zooarchaeological Approach

By Barrett, James H. | Antiquity, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Fish Trade in Norse Orkney and Caithness: A Zooarchaeological Approach


Barrett, James H., Antiquity


The trade of dried fish played an important role in the transformation from the Viking Age to the Middle Ages in Scandinavian polities such as Arctic Norway. This paper develops zooarchaeological methods to investigate whether similar processes occurred in the less well documented Norse colonies of northern Scotland -- the joint earldoms of Orkney and Caithness.

The problem

During the Viking Age (9th-11th centuries) and Middle Ages (11th-15th centuries) much of northern Scotland -- including Caithness and the archipelagos Orkney and Shetland -- was ruled by the earls of Orkney and Caithness as a semi-independent Norse polity (Crawford 1982; 1987) (Figure 1). Were these earldoms engaged in the dried fish trade of profound importance in better-documented Scandinavian contexts such as Norway and Iceland? Dried cod family (Gadidae) fishes, demanded in Britain and continental Europe for purposes as diverse as Lenten fare and military rations (Hammond 1993; Heinrich 1986a; Prestwich 1967), were probably exported from Arctic Norway by the 11th or 12th centuries (Bertelsen 1992; Nedkvitne 1976; Perdikaris 1996; Urbanczyk 1992). They became important to Iceland's long-range trade by the late 13th century (Amorosi 1991; Carus-Wilson 1967; Gelsinger 1981). The fish trade contributed to the incorporation of these `peripheries' of the medieval world into the milieu of European Christian culture (Bertelsen 1991; 1992; Buckland et al. 1994; Urbanczyk 1992). In the less well documented Scandinavian colonies of Scotland, was participation in the medieval cured-fish trade correlated with the 11th- to 12th-century adoption of European ideology evidenced by Romanesque architecture (e.g. Crawford 1988) and Christian burial practice (e.g. Batey 1993b; Driscoll 1993)? Two issues stand at the heart of the problem: were dried fish exported from the medieval earldoms? What evidence exists regarding when this trade may have begun? These issues are addressed by combining analyses of zooarchaeological data, site-formation processes, limited direct historical evidence and analogies from later periods in the history of northern Scotland.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The importance of long-range trade in the Norse earldoms of northern Scotland is not in question. There is little surviving historical evidence (Barrett 1995; Crawford 1987; Thomson 1987), but imported artefacts are informative. Figure 1 illustrates the distribution of 12th- to 14th-century pottery of British and continental type from the earldoms. The total number of sherds, at c. 482 small in comparison with urban centres (e.g. Reed 1990; Blackmore & Vince 1995), compares very favourably with other rural areas of the North Atlantic where the importance of long-range trade is historically documented. In Iceland, fewer than 50 sherds pre-dating the 15th century are recorded (Sveinbjarnardottir 1996).

Little historical evidence regarding fish trade in Orkney, Caithness and Shetland pre-dates the 15th century (below). However, distinctive fish middens dominated by bone from cod and related species have been discovered at the medieval sites of Robert's Haven (Barrett 1995; Morris et al. 1994; Simpson & Barrett 1996) and Freswick Links (Morris et al. 1995), in Caithness. They may also exist at Quoygrew (Colley 1983a; 1984), St Boniface (Ceron-Carrasco 1994) and Sandwick (Bigelow 1984; 1985; 1989). Middens at these locations include `unusually pure concentrations of fish bone and molluscs' (Bigelow 1984) and `a large quantity of marine shell and fish remains' (Colley 1983a). Following Colley (1983a; 1989), Bigelow (1985; 1989) and Ceron-Carrasco (1994), the present paper asks if some deposits are residue from processing fish for export. I focus on results from Robert's Haven, Caithness, and from a domestic site at Earl's Bu, Orkney. Their comparison illuminates distinctive aspects of the Robert's Haven deposit and facilitates a better understanding of taphonomic biases. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Fish Trade in Norse Orkney and Caithness: A Zooarchaeological Approach
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.