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Cod bones from Mary Rose reveal globalised fish trade in Tudor England

last modified Sep 10, 2015 02:53 PM
New analysis shows warship's dried fish provisions were sourced from as far away as Icelandic and possibly even transatlantic waters.

New ancient DNA and stable isotope evidence shows that stored cod provisions recovered from the wreck of the Tudor warship Mary Rose, which sank in the Solent, southern England, in AD 1545, had been caught in northern and transatlantic waters such as the northern North Sea and the fishing grounds of Iceland and Newfoundland.

The study, led by researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Hull and York, is published today in the open access journal Royal Society Open Science.  Corresponding author, Dr James Barrett, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, said:

“The findings contribute to the idea that the demand for preserved fish was exceeding the supply that local English and Irish fisheries were able to provide in order to feed growing – and increasingly urban – populations. We know from these bones that one of the sources of demand was naval provisions."

"The existence and development of globalised fisheries was one of the things that made the growth of the navy possible. The navy was a key mechanism of maritime expansion, while at the same time being sustained by that expansion. The story of the cod trade is a microcosm of globalisation during this pivotal period.” 

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Image: Cod bones (cleithra) recovered from the Mary Rose, with a stained modern example for comparison (Photo: Sheila Hamilton-Dyer)


Posted 9th September 2015

An Oral History of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research