Fish in a barrel: Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus) from the Baltic Sea wreck of the royal Danish flagship Gribshunden (1495)

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Abstract

In 1495, the royal Danish ship Gribshunden sank in the Baltic Sea, near the town of Ronneby. During archaeological excavations in 2019, a wooden barrel submerged inside the shipwreck revealed the almost complete and well-preserved remains of a sturgeon fish. In this paper, we present the find in terms of species identification, estimation of number of individuals, size reconstruction and butchery marks. Results show that the remains most likely derive from one specimen of Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrinchus). Species identification was made on morphological basis as well as ancient DNA analysis, using mitochondrial DNA for identification. Based on the location of chop marks, we argue that the sturgeon was chopped to larger pieces, before it was put in a wooden barrel and stored in the hold of Gribshunden. The high value of sturgeon during the late medieval period is key to understand its incidence on the royal flagship Gribshunden. The Danish King Hans was onboard the ship, on his way to Kalmar for a diplomatic summit to claim the Swedish throne. The ship carried valuable cargo, intended to impress the Swedish noblemen awaiting the king. The Gribshunden sturgeon is among the first examples derived from an underwater context, at least in the Baltic Sea. By the sheer quantity of the remains as well as its high contextual integrity, it is unique in a Scandinavian context.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Archaeology

Keywords

  • Acipenser, Ancient DNA, Baltic Sea, Gribshunden shipwreck, Late Medieval Scandinavia, Submerged archaeology, Zooarchaeology
Original languageEnglish
Article number102480
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Volume33
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes

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