Early Evidence for Northern Salmonid Fisheries Discovered using Novel Mineral Proxies

D. H. Butler, S. Koivisto, V. Brumfeld, R. Shahack-Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Salmonid resources currently foster socioeconomic prosperity in several nations, yet their importance to many ancient circumpolar societies is poorly understood due to insufficient fish bone preservation at archaeological sites. As a result, there are serious gaps in our knowledge concerning the antiquity of northern salmonid fisheries and their impacts on shaping biodiversity, hunter-gatherer adaptations, and human-ecological networks. The interdisciplinary study presented here demonstrates that calcium-magnesium phosphate minerals formed in burned salmonid bones can preserve at ancient northern sites, thus informing on the early utilization of these resources despite the absence of morphologically classifiable bones. The minerals whitlockite and beta magnesium tricalcium phosphate were identified in rare morphologically classifiable Atlantic salmonid bones from three Mid-Holocene sites in Finland. Large amounts of beta magnesium tricalcium phosphate were also experimentally formed by burning modern Atlantic salmonid and brown trout bones. Our results demonstrate the value of these minerals as proxies for ancient northern salmonid fishing. Specifically, the whitlockite mineral was discovered in hearth sediments from the 5,600 year old Yli-Ii Kierikinkangas site on the Iijoki River in northern Finland. Our fine sieving and mineralogical analyses of these sediments, along with zooarchaeological identification of recovered bone fragments, have confirmed for the first time that the people living at this village did incorporate salmonids into their economies, thus providing new evidence for early estuary/riverine fisheries in northern Finland.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge funding support from the University of Haifa Postdoctoral Fellowship, the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies Sir Maurice and Lady Irene Hatter Research Grant, and the Azrieli Foundation International Postdoctoral Fellowship. We thank Sami Viljanmaa, the staff of the Kierikki Stone Age Centre, the members of the archaeological field crew, and the Finnish National Board of Antiquities. We thank Katariina Nurminen of the University of Helsinki for species determination, Kristin Kaschner of the University of Freiburg for providing the Global salmonid distribution base map, and two anonymous reviewers who helped improve this manuscript. Experimental, FTIR, and XRD analyses were carried out at the Charney School of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa. µCT analyses were carried out at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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