Reconstructing age distribution, season of capture and growth rate of fish from archaeological sites based on otoliths and vertebrae

  • Van Neer W
  • Lõugas L
  • Rijnsdorp A
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The growth increments of otoliths and vertebrae of plaice ( ) derived from a 15th century single depositional event at Raversijde (Belgium) are analysed with the aim of reconstructing (a) the age distribution of the population, (b) the season of capture, and (c) the growth rate. Otoliths and vertebrae give slightly different age distributions but it is possible to arrive at similar seasonality estimations in both structures when information from the literature and our own data from monthly captures of plaice from the North Sea are taken into account. These modern data show that the timing of annulus formation in otoliths and vertebrae is more or less similar. Back-calculations on vertebrae and otoliths yield similar growth curves. The age distribution, the edge condition of both vertebrae and otoliths, and the growth rate obtained on the material from Raversijde all show that the plaice from the studied assemblage were captured during spring in the southern part of the North Sea. Vertebrae are commonly preserved in archaeological sites whereas otoliths rarely survive. Although they are more difficult to read than otoliths, vertebrae of plaice can be used for growth increment analyses, and the growth rates obtained from vertebrae from archaeological sites can, therefore, be compared in the future to growth data from modern otoliths studied in sea fisheries research. Archaeozoological material predating industrialized fishing since the 19th century can hence serve as a reference in the study of the compensatory response of commercially important species to heavy exploitation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Fishery
  • Growth rate
  • Incremental growth
  • North Sea
  • Otolith
  • Pleuronectes platessa
  • Seasonality
  • Vertebra

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  • Wim Van Neer

  • Lembi Lõugas

  • Adriaan D. Rijnsdorp

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