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Ancient whale exploitation in the Mediterranean: the archaeological record

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 July 2016

Darío Bernal-Casasola*
University of Cádiz, Faculty of Philosophy & Letters, Avenida Dr Gómez Ulla 1, 11003 Cádiz, Spain
Armelle Gardeisen
University Paul-Valéry—UMR 5140, CNRS, Montpellier, France
Peggy Morgenstern
Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Berlin, Germany
Liora Kolska Horwitz
National Natural History Collections, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Gäel Piqués
University Paul-Valéry—UMR 5140, CNRS, Montpellier, France
Tatiana Theodoropoulou
Wiener Laboratory, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Greece
Barbara Wilkens
Department of Nature and Environmental Science, University of Sassari, Italy
*Author for correspondence (Email:


Despite a general paucity of archaeological, archaeozoological and iconographic evidence from the Upper Palaeolithic through to Late Antiquity, the corpus of whalebone finds in the Mediterranean region indicates that some level of interaction between humans and whales did indeed occur. A concentration of finds from Roman contexts suggests more active interventions in this period, especially around the Western Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar—a ‘cetacean hotspot’. Whale vertebrae or scapulae were sometimes fashioned into portable chopping boards, identified from cut-marks made by fishermen or craftsmen, but whale meat and blubber may have been less important owing to abundant alternative food and fuel sources.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2016 

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