Hunting Dolphins in the Black Sea (15 min)


Magie Aiken, University of Copenhagen, Elena Gladilina, Ukrainian Scientific Centre of Ecology of the Sea, Canan Çakırlar, University of Groningen, Sergey Telizhenko, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, and Youri van den Hurk, Norwegian University of Science and Technology


Dolphin and porpoise bones are recovered regularly from archaeological sites in the Black Sea region. This contrasts sharply with the Mediterranean, where remarkably few marine mammal bones are recovered. While ancient authors such as Oppian (Halieutica 5.52–61) suggest that dolphins were hunted in antiquity in the Black Sea, there has previously not been any metastudy of the zooarchaeological assemblages. We combined data from 27 archaeological sites in the Black Sea region, producing a metadatabase of faunal assemblages in the region. Here we present zooarchaeological evidence of dolphin and porpoise exploitation in the Black Sea from the Mesolithic to the Medieval period. Through the analysis of the faunal data, we examine dolphin and porpoise hunting and use as a resource over a period of 8,500 years. We show that dolphin and porpoise bones are present in over 90 percent of the archaeological contexts in the Black Sea region. While often recovered in small quantities, we identify two peaks in the presence of the dolphins and porpoises bones in the Chalcolithic and Roman period which can be linked to both ecological and anthropogenic factors. The increase in dolphin and porpoise bones in the Chalcolithic is suggested to relate to a rise in dolphin and porpoise population size. The Roman period increase in dolphin bone finds is likely linked to an increasing population and, potentially, an increased need for illuminant for lamps. Overall, the results of this study show a unique presence of dolphins and porpoises in Black Sea zooarchaeological assemblages.