Skip to main content Accessibility help

Fish trade in Norse Orkney and Caithness: a zooarchaeological approach

  • James H. Barrett (a1)

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.

Hide All
Amorosi, T. 1991. Icelandic archaeofauna: a preliminary review, Acta Archaeologica 61: 272–84.
Barrett, J.H. 1992. Farmers and fishers in Norse Orkney: the role of foraging in an agricultural economy. Unpublished MA thesis, University of Toronto.
Barrett, J.H. 1993. Bone weight, meat yield estimates and cod (Gadus morhua): a preliminary study of the weight method, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 3:118.
Barrett, J.H. 1995. ‘Few know an earl in fishing-clothes’: fish middens and the economy of the Viking Age and Late Norse earldoms of Orkney and Caithness, northern Scotland. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Glasgow.
Barrett, J.H., Nicholson, R.A. & Cerón-Carrasco, R.. 1997. Archaeoichthyological evidence for long-term economic trends in northern Scotland: 3500 BC to 1400 AD. Paper presented at 9th meeting of the ICAZ fish remains working group, Panama City, Panama.
Batey, CE. 1984. Caithness coastal survey 1980–82: Dunnet Head to Ousdale. Durham: University of Durham, Department of Archaeology.
Batey, CE. 1989. Recent work at Freswick Links, Caithness, northern Scotland, Hikuin 15: 223–30.
Batey, CE. 1993a. A Norse horizontal mill in Orkney, Review of Scottish Culture 8: 2028.
Batey, C.E. 1993b. The Viking and Late Norse graves of Caithness and Sutherland, in Batey, et al. (ed.): 148–4.
Batey, C.E., Jesch, J. & Morris, C.D. (ed.). 1993. Caithness, Orkney and the North Atlantic in the Viking Age. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Batey, C.E. & Morris, C.D.. 1992. Earl’s Bu, Orphir, Orkney: excavations of a Norse horizontal mill, in Morris, C.D. & Rackham, D.J. (ed.), Norse and later settlement and subsistence in the North Atlantic. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, Department of Archaeology.
Behrensmeyer, A.K. 1978. Taphonomic and ecologie information from bone weathering, Paleobiology 4: 150–62.
Bertelsen, R, 1991. A north-east Atlantic perspective, Acta Archaeologica 61: 22–8.
Bertelsen, R 1992. An archaeological perspective on the Medieval north-south connection, in Medieval Europe 1992: exchange and trade pre-printed papers: 177–84. York: Medieval Europe 1992.
Bigelow, G.F. 1984. Subsistence in Late Norse Shetland: an investigation into a northern island economy of the Middle Ages. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Cambridge.
Bigelow, G.F. 1985. Sandwick, Unst and Late Norse Shetland economy, in Smith, (ed.): 95127.
Bigelow, G.F. 1989. Life in medieval Shetland: an archaeological perspective, Hikuin 15: 183–92.
Blackmore, L. & Vince, A.. 1994. Medieval pottery from south east England found in the Bryggen excavations 1955–68, in Herteig, A.E. et al. (ed.), The Bryggen Papers Supplementary Series 5:9160. Bergen: Scandinavian University Press.
Blumenschine, R.J., Marean, C.W. & Capaldo, S.D.. 1996. Blind tests of inter-analyst correspondence and accuracy in the identification of cut-marks, percussion marks, and carnivore tooth marks on bone surfaces, Journal of Archaeological Science 23: 493507.
Brand, J. 1883. A Brief Description of Orkney, Zetland, Pightland-Firth and Caithness. Edinburgh: William Brown.
Breketon, G.E. & Ferrier, J.M.. 1981. Le menagier de Paris. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Brinkhuizen, D.C. 1994. Some notes on fish remains from the late 16th century merchant vessel Scheurrak SOI, in Van Neer, (ed.): 197206.
Brinkhuizen, D.C. & Clason, A.T. (ed.). 1986. Fish and archaeology. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. British series 294.
Buckland, P.C. et al. 1994. Farmers, farm mounds and environmental change, in J. Sfötter, (ed.), Environmental change in Iceland: 7–30. Munich: Münchener Geographische Abhandlungen.
Bullock, A.E. 1994. Evidence for fish exploitation from Tudor deposits excavated at Little Pickle, Surrey/England, in 1989, Offa 51: 267–75.
Butler, V.L. 1993. Natural versus cultural salmonid remains: origin of the Dalles roadcut bones, Columbia River, Oregon, USA, Journal of Archaeological Science 20: 124.
Butler, V.L. & Chatters, J.C.. 1994. The role of bone density in structuring prehistoric salmon bone assemblages, Journal of Archaeological Science 21: 413–24.
Cannon, D.Y. 1987. Marine fish osteology: a manual for archaeologists. Burnaby (BC): Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University.
Carus-Wilson, E.M. 1967. Medieval merchant venturers. 2nd edition. London: Methuen.
Cerón-Carrasco, R. 1994. The investigation of fish remains from an Orkney farm mound, in Van Neer, (ed.): 207–10.
Christensen, A.E. 1985. Boat finds from Bryggen, in Hagen, A. et al. (ed.), The Bryggen Papers: 47–272. Bergen: Universitets forlaget AS.
Coles, J. 1971. The early settlement of Scotland: excavations at Morton, Fife, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 27: 284366.
Colley, S.M. 1983a. The role of fish bone studies in economic archaeology: with special reference to the Orkney Isles. Unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Southampton.
Colley, S.M. 1983b. Interpreting prehistoric fishing strategies: an Orkney case study, in Grigson, & Clutton-Brock, (ed.): 157–71.
Colley, S.M. 1984. Some methodological problems in the interpretation of fish remains from archaeological sites in Orkney, in Desse-Berset, N. (ed.), 2nd Fish Osteoarchaeology Meeting: 117–31. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Archéologique. Notes et Monographies Techniques 16.
Colley, S.M. 1986. Site formation and archaeological fish remains: an ethnohistorical example from the Northern Isles, Scotland, in Brinkhuizen, & Clason, (ed.): 3441.
Colley, S.M. 1989. The fish bones, in CD. Morris, (ed.), The Birsay Bay project 1: 248–59. Durham: University of Durham, Department of Archaeology. Monograph 1.
Colley, S.M. 1990. The analysis and interpretation of archaeological fish remains, Archaeological method and theory: 207–53.
Crawford, B.E. 1982. Scots and Scandinavians in medieval Caithness: a study of the period 1266–1375, in Baldwin, J.R. (ed.), Caithness: a cultural crossroads: 61–74. Edinburgh: Scottish Society for Northern Studies.
Crawford, B.E. 1985. The Biggings, Papa Stour – a multi-disciplinary investigation, in Smith, (ed.): 128–58.
Crawford, B.E. 1967. Scandinavian Scotland. Leicester: Leicester University Press.
Crawford, B.E. (Ed.). 1988. St Magnus Cathedral and Orkney’s twelfth-century renaissance. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press.
Curle, C.L. 1982. Pictish and Norse finds from the Brough of Birsay 1934–74. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Monograph 1.
Cutting, C.L. 1955. Fish saving. London: Leonard Hill.
Driscull, S. 1993. Rescue excavations of a prehistoric settlement and Viking Age/medieval cemetery at John O’Groats, 1989, Glasgow Archaeological Journal 16: 2937.
Enghoff, I.B. 1996. Danmarks første sildeindustri?, Marin-arkæologisk Nyhedshrev fra Roskilde 6: 24.
Fenton, A. 1978. The Northern Isles: Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: John Donald.
Fisher, I. 1993. Orphir Church in its south Scandinavian context, in Batey, et al. (ed.): 375–80.
Friedland, K. 1973. Der Hansische Shetlandhandel, in Friedland, K. (ed.), Stadt und Land in der Geschichte des Ostseeraums: 66–79. Lübeck: Verlag Max Schmidt-Römhild.
Gaimster, D.R.M. & Batey, C.E.. 1995. The pottery, in Morris, et al. (ed.): 136–48.
Gelsinger, B.E. 1981. Icelandic enterprise: commerce and economy in the Middle Ages. Columbia (SC): University of South Carolina Press.
Goodlad, C.A. 1971. Shetland fishing saga. Lerwick: Shetland Times.
Goudie, G. 1904. The Celtic and Scandinavian antiquities of Shetland. Edinburgh: Blackwood.
Graham-Campbell, J.A. 1995. The Viking-Age gold and silver of Scotland. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland.
Grigson, C. & Clutton-Brock, J. (ed.). 1983. Animals and archaeology 2: Shell middens fishes and birds. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. International series 183.
Halstead, P. & O’shea, J. (ed.). 1989. Bad year economics: cultural responses to risk and uncertainty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hamilton, J.R.C. 1956. Excavations at Jarlshof. Edinburgh: HMSO.
Hammond, P.W. 1993. Food & feast in medieval England. Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing.
Heinrich, D. 1983. Temporal changes in fishery and fish consumption between early medieval Haithabu and its successor, Schleswig, in Grigson, & Clutton-Brock, (ed.): 151–6.
Heinrich, D. 1986. Fishing and consumption of cod (Gadus morhua Linnaeus, 1758) in the Middle Ages, in Brinkhuizen, & Clason, (ed.): 4252.
Heinrich, D. 1987. Untersuchungen an mittelalterlichen Fischresten aus Schleswig: Ausgrabung Schild 1971–1975. Neumünster: Karl Wachholtz Verlag.
Heinrich, D. 1994. Fish remains of two medieval castles and of an urban context — a comparison, in Van Neer, (ed.): 211–16.
Hunter, J.R. 1986. Rescue excavations on the Brough of Birsay 1974–82. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Monograph 4.
Hunter, J.R. et al. 1990. Pool, Sanday: a case study for the Late Iron Age and Viking periods, in Armit, I. (ed.), Beyond the brochs: 175–93. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Huntley, J.P. 1994. Some botanical aspects of a Norse economy in northern Scotland, Botanical Journal of Scotland 46: 538–41.
Innis, H.A. 1940. The cod fisheries. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Jones, A.K.G. 1982. Bulk-sieving and the recovery of fish remains from urban archaeological sites, in Hall, A.R. & Kenward, H. (ed.), Environmental archaeology in the urban context: 79–85. London: Council for British Archaeology. Research report 43.
Jones, A.K.G. 1991. The fish remains from excavations at Freswick Links, Caithness. Unpublished DPhil. thesis, University of York.
Jones, A.K.G., Morris, C.D. & Rackham, D.J.. 1995. The fish material, in Morris, et al. (ed.): 154–91.
Kruse, S.E. & Tate, J.. 1992. XRF analysis of Viking Age silver ingots, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 122: 295328.
Leach, B.F. 1986. A method for the analysis of Pacific Island fishbone assemblages and an associated database management system, Journal of Archaeological Science 13: 147–59.
Low, G. 1813. Fauna Orcadensis or The Natural History of the Quadrupeds, Birds, Reptiles, and Fishes of Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: George Ramsay.
Low, G. 1879. A Tour Through the Islands of Orkney and Shetland Containing Hints Relative to their Ancient Modern and Natural History Collected in 1774. Kirkwall: William Peace & Son.
Lowe, C.E. 1993. Preliminary results of the excavation assessment at Munkerhoose cliff-section and farm mound, St Boniface Church, Papa Westray, Orkney, Northern Studies 30: 1933.
Lubinski, P.M. 1996. Fish heads, fish heads: an experiment on differential bone preservation in a salmonid fish, Journal of Archaeological Science 23: 175–82.
Lyman, R.L. 1994. Vertebrate taphonomy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lynam, E. 1936. Early maps of Scandinavia and Iceland, Saga-Book 11: 14.
Macaskill, N. 1982. The pottery, in N.A. McGavin, Excavations in Kirkwall, 1978, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 108: 392436.
Magnusson, M. & PáLsson, H.. 1960. Njal’s Saga. London: Penguin.
Mainland, I. 1993. The animal bone assemblage from the 1988 excavations at the Earl’s Bu, Orphir, Orkney. Sheffield Environmental Facility unpublished report.
Mainland, I. 1994. A preliminary discussion of the animal bone assemblage from the 1989 excavations at the Earl’s Bu (EB89), Orphir, Orkney. Sheffield Environmental Facility unpublished report.
Marcus, G.W. 1980. The conquest of the North Atlantic. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.
Marean, C.W. 1991. Measuring the post-depositional destruction of bone in archaeological assemblages, Journal of Archaeological Science 18: 677–94.
Marshall, F. & Pilgram, T.. 1993. NISP vs. MNI in quantification of body-part representation, American Antiquity 58: 261–9.
Martin, M. 1716. [1981.] A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland. 2nd edition [1716]. Edinburgh: James Thin.
Matsui, A. 1996. Archaeological investigations of anadromous salmonid fishing in Japan, World Archaeology 27: 444–60.
Mcneill, G.P. 1901. The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland Volume XXI A.D. 1580–1588. Edinburgh: H.M. General Register House.
Mills, S.A. 1984. Pottery, in Batey, C.E., Morris, C.D. & Rackham, D.J., Freswick Castle, Caithness: Report on rescue excavations carried out in 1979, Glasgow Arcliaeofogical Journal 11: 83118.
Ministry of Fisheries. 1994. Norwegian quality regulations relating to fish and fishery products. Directorate of Fisheries, Department of Quality Control.
Mitchell, A. 1906. Macfarlane’s Geographical Collections 1. Edinburgh: Scottish History Society.
Morris, C.D., Barrett, J.H. & Batey, C.E.. 1994. The Viking and early settlement archaeological research project: an archaeological research programme and recent results, in Ambrosiani, B. & Clarke, H. (ed.), The Twelfth Viking Congress: Developments around the Baltic and the North Sea in the Viking Age: 144–58. Stockholm: The Birka Project.
Morris, C.D., Batey, C.E. & Rackham, D.J.. 1995. Freswick Links, Caithness: excavation and survey of a Norse settlement. Inverness: North Atlantic Biocultural Organisation.
Nedkvitne, A. 1976. Handelssjøfarten mellom Norge og England i Høymiddelalderen, Sjøfartshistorisk Årbok 1976: 7254.
Nicholson, R.A. 1991. An investigation into variability within archaeologically recovered assemblages of faunal remains: the influence of pre-depositional taphonomic processes. Unpublished DPhil. thesis, University of York.
Nicholson, R.A. 1992a. Bone survival: the effects of sedimentary abrasion and trampling on fresh and cooked bone, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 2: 7990.
Nicholson, R.A. 1992b. An assessment of the value of bone density measurements to archaeoichthyological studies, International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 2: 139–54.
Nicholson, R.A. 1996a. Fish bone diagenesis in different soils, Archaeofauna 5: 7991.
Nicholson, R.A. 1996b. Bone degradation, burial medium and species representation: debunking the myths, an experiment-based approach, Journal of Archaeological Science 23: 513–34.
Nicholson, R.A. 1996c. The fish remains from Pool, Sanday. Unpublished report.
Nicholson, R.A. Forthcoming. Fishing in the Northern Isles: a case study based on fish bone assemblages from two multi-period sites on Sanday, Orkney, Environmental Archaeology, Human Palaeoecology.
Nleke, M. 1993. Penannular and related brooches: secular ornament or symbol in action?, in Spearman, R.M. & Higgitt, J. (ed.), The age of migrating ideas: 128–34. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland.
O’shea, J. 1989. The role of wild resources in small-scale agricultural systems: tales from the lakes and the plains, in Halstead, & O’Shea, (ed.): 5767.
O’shea, J. & Halstead, P.. 1989. Conclusions: bad year economics, in Halstead, & O’shea, (ed.): 123–6.
Owen, O.A. 1993. Tuquoy, Westray, Orkney: a challenge for the future?, in Batey, et al. (ed.): 318–39.
Owen, O. & Smith, B.. 1988. Kebister, Shetland: an armorial stone, and an archdeacon’s teind barn?, Post-Medieval Archaeology 22: 120.
Pálsson, H. & Edwards, P.. 1981. Orkneyinga Saga: the history of the earls of Orkney. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Pálsson, H. & Edwards, P.. 1989. Eyrbyggja Saga. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Perdikaris, S. 1996. Scaly heads and tales: detecting commercialization in early fisheries, Archaeofauna 5: 2133.
Power, R. 1990. Scotland in the Norse Sagas, in Simpson, G. (ed.), Scotland and Scandinavia 800–1800: 13–24. Edinburgh: John Donald.
Prestwich, M. 1967. Victualling estimates for English garrisons in Scotland during the fourteenth century, English Historical Review 82: 536–43.
Rackham, D.J. 1987. Practicality and realism in archaeo-zoological analysis and interpretation, in Gaffney, C.F. & Gaffney, V.L. (ed.), Pragmatic archaeology: theory in crisis?: 47–70. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Reed, I.W. 1990. 1000 years of pottery: an analysis of pottery trade and use. Trondheim: Riksantikvaren, Utgravnings-kontoret for Trondheim.
Rigby, S.H. 1993. Medieval Grimsby: growth and decline. Hull: University of Hull Press.
Ringrose, T.J. 1993 Bone counts and statistics: a critique, Journal of Archaeological Science 20: 121–57.
Shennan, S. 1988. Quantifying archaeology. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Sibbald, R. 1845. Description of the Islands of Orkney and Zetland by Robert Monteith of Eglisha and Gairsa, 1633. Edinburgh: Thomas G. Stevenson.
Simpson, I. & Barrett, J.H.. 1996. Interpretation of midden formation processes at Robert’s Haven, Caithness, Scotland, using thin section micromorphology, Journal of Archaeological Science 23: 543–56.
Smith, H.D. 1984. Shetland life and trade 1550–1914. Edinburgh: John Donald.
Smith, B. (ED.). 1985. Shetland archaeology: new work in the 1970s. Lerwick: Shetland Times.
Stallibrass, S. 1990. Canid damage to animal bones: two current lines of research, in Robinson, (ed.): 151–65.
Stein, J.K. (ed.). 1992a. Deciphering a shell midden. Orlando (FL): Academic Press.
Stein, J.K. 1992b. Sediment analysis of the British Camp shell midden, in Stein, (ed.): 135–62.
Sten, S. 1995. Trading with fish in medieval Sweden: some examples from archaeological bone finds, Archaeofauna 4: 65–9.
Stuart, J. & Burnett, G.. 1878. The Exchequer Rolls of Scotland 1. Edinburgh: HM General Register House.
Stuiver, M. & Reimer, P.J.. 1993. Extended 14C database and revised CALIB radiocarbon calibration program, Radiocarbon 35: 215–30.
Sveinbjarnardóttir, G. 1998. Leirker a Íslandi — Pottery found in excavations in Iceland. Reykjavik: Rit Hins Islenska Fornleifafélags og Thjodminjasafns Íslands 3.
Talbot, E. 1973. Scrabster, Bishop’s Castle, Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1973: 21–2.
Talbot, E. 1974. Scandinavian fortifications in the British Isles, Scottish Archaeological Forum 6: 3745.
Thomson, W.P.L. 1987. History of Orkney. Edinburgh: Mercat Press.
Trætteberg, H. 1975. Tyske Kontorsegl, Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk Middelalder 19: 146–8.
Urbanczyk, P. 1992. Medieval Arctic Norway. Warsaw: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology.
Van Neer, W. (ed.). 1994. Fish exploitation in the past: proceedings of the 7th meeting of the ICAZ fish remains working group. Tervuren: Musée Royal de L’Afrique Centrale.
Van Neer, W. & Ervynck, A.. 1994. New data on fish remains from Belgian archaeological sites, in Van Neer, (ed.): 217–30.
Van Neer, W. & Ervynck, A.. 1996. Food rules and status: patterns of fish consumption in a monastic community (Ename, Belgium), Archaeofauna 5: 155–64.
Vollan, O. 1959. Fisketilvirkning, Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk Middelalder 4: 343–4.
Vollan, O. 1974. Torskefiske, Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk Middelalder 18: 506–9.
Von Den Driesch, A. 1994. Hyperostosis in fish, in Van Neer, (ed.): 3745.
Watt, J., Pierce, G.J. & Boyle, P.R.. In press. A guide to the identification of North Sea fish using premaxillae and vertebrae. Copnhagen: International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.
Wheeler, A. 1978. Problems of identification and interpretation of archaeological fish remains, in Brothwell, D.R. et al. (ed.), Research problems in zooarchaeology: 69–75. London: Institute of Archaeology.
Wheeler, A. & Jones, A.K.G.. 1989. Fishes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Whitehead, P.J.P. et al. 1986. Fishes of the North-eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean 2. Paris: UNESCO.
Will, B. 1995. Report on the medieval ceramics from Robert’s Haven, John O’ Groats, Caithness. Unpublished report.
Withrington, D.J. & Grant, I.R.. 1979. The statistical account of Scotland 1791–1799 edited by Sir John Sinclair 18: Caithness and Sutherland. East Ardsley: EP.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed