Guest Blog: Katrien Dierickx and SeaChanges

As part of our 50th Anniversary Celebration, we are featuring guest blogs from various researchers and project partners that we have worked with over the years, discussing some of our best research collaborations. Today’s blog post is from Katrien Dierickx, a PhD researcher at University of York.

How can archaeology help to protect the fauna living in European seas? Since 2019 YAT has been a partner with the SeaChanges ITN* and the University of York, working with several PhD students who are trying to uncover the past of economically important marine animals and the impact humans have had on these species.

One group of animals was analysed by Katrien Dierickx, a PhD student at the University of York. She studied how humans exploited flatfish during the Medieval period in the southern North Sea area. More specifically, she wanted to find out which species were being consumed and if any changes in catch habitats occurred through time.

The results from this project are two-fold. Firstly, new methods, including traditional osteology as well as novel biomolecular approaches, were developed that allow a more precise identification of the different species consumed during medieval times. The most consumed species were plaice, flounder, and turbot. Secondly, shifts in targeted species and catch habitats throughout the Medieval period were uncovered. One of the main conclusions from the research was that people traded flatfish caught in coastal or marine areas to inland settlements much earlier than expected, as early as the 7th century. Furthermore, the analysed archaeological remains from York show that people preferred to consume flounder prior to the 10th century, but afterwards plaice became the most popular flatfish to eat. 

As this research analysed archaeological remains from a wide area, spanning several countries, the importance of working with local partners, such as YAT, was essential to its success. Insights into the archaeology and history of the studied regions were contributed by experts and collection managers, while careful preservation of excavated material allows the application of novel scientific methods, necessary to uncover the past in more detail.  

*This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 813383.