Vikings were accused of exterminating the Baltic herring

(ORDO NEWS) — The Scandinavians of the end of the 1st millennium are usually represented by mass culture as stern warriors, and not at all as merchants.

This coincides with historical sources, according to which the main subject of Viking trade was people captured by them in raids.

The Vikings also sold Baltic amber and Scandinavian whetstones, but not in too large quantities. Now biologists and archaeologists have found another Viking export – and quite profitable.

Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus) is a valuable commercial fish with which we are all very familiar. Historians previously believed that the extensive herring trade began around 1200 AD.

Later it was controlled by the Hanseatic League. A work was published in the PNAS magazine, the authors of which claim that it was established already in the Viking Age.

Biologists studied the finds of archaeologists made in Truso, a Prussian trading settlement on the territory of modern Poland.

It is a major port and trading city of the Viking Age. In the 9th-10th centuries, the Amber Road to the southern lands began with it.

Vikings were accused of exterminating the Baltic herring 2
From such tiny herring bones, biologists managed to extract DNA, which could be used to conclude that the fish did not originate locally

Among the artifacts found at the excavations of Truso, the researchers found the bones of a herring and dated them to 800-850 years of our era – that is, the Viking era.

At first glance, there is nothing strange in this find. Truso stood on the shores of the Baltic Sea, so why couldn’t its inhabitants catch herring without the Vikings?

Why did the idea of ​​long-distance trade arise at all?

The fact is that the herring that was harvested in the Baltic is divided into two types: some go to spawn in the spring, and others in the fall.

Those who prefer autumn spawning also live in more salty water – in the west of the sea, in the area of ​​the Kattegat.

In the area of ​​the city of Truso, the waters of the Baltic are much less salty than in all the surrounding seas, and it is difficult and almost impossible for those fish that are used to living in saltier water to adapt to such conditions. Moreover, herring, whose spawning varies according to the season, do not even interbreed.

From this, scientists concluded that the herring eaten in Truso was caught in the Kattegata region and somehow delivered to the southeast of the Baltic.

It was previously known that the Vikings traded cod: the bones of this fish were found in Hedeby, the most important trading center of the era, which was located in the north of modern Germany.

Vikings were accused of exterminating the Baltic herring 3
Computer reconstruction of Truso, a large trading settlement on the Baltic coast

But trading herring over long distances is much more difficult than cod. Herring is much fatter and therefore spoils faster.

You can, of course, offer customers surströmming, but in the Middle Ages, people had too many weapons on their hands and such a fragrant offer could end badly.

Herring had to be either salted or smoked. We have neither finds nor mention in the historical sources of any centers for pre-sale preparation of fish from the Viking Age.

It only says that our knowledge of that time is fragmentary.

But it is clear that if you need to process fish before transportation and sale, you need to have a sufficiently large fishery and serious trade relations – otherwise the investment will not pay off.

The authors of the work not only push back the start of a large herring trade 400 years earlier.

They suggest that the tradition of catching this fish has been preserved for centuries, which has led to a local environmental problem.

We mentioned that the herring of autumn and spring spawning breed and live in different places, so they practically do not interbreed with each other.

Autumn spawners are larger and fatter – that is, they are more interesting in terms of fishing.

And after the Vikings, it was they who were mined for more than a thousand years, until at the beginning of the 20th century it turned out that there were too few autumn spawners for commercial fishing.

Now in the Baltic, 90 percent of the commercial catch consists of spring spawning. It’s not that autumn spawners completely disappear in this sea, rather they are no longer of commercial interest.

They still exist, but not in the same numbers as in the 9th century. The authors of the work believe that it was the over-harvesting of herring, which the Vikings began, that led to such a result.


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