Whales and Whaling: New Perspectives and Approaches for Documenting Long-Term Exploitation of Cetaceans

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 82nd Annual Meeting, Vancouver, BC (2017)

Human have been exploiting whales and other large marine mammals for thousands of years. Often initially focused on the opportunistic use of stranded carcasses, active whale hunting technologies and strategies emerged worldwide in different times and places. In spite of their importance as sources of food, fuel and raw materials, there are fewer archaeological studies of cetaceans than any other hunted mammal group. Today, cetaceans are amongst the most threatened groups of mammals, due to dramatic global declines resulting from industrial overharvesting and other anthropogenic influences. Archaeology has an important role to play in not only in deciphering the timing, socio-cultural context and technological developments of active whaling, but also in providing essential baseline information on the past geographical distribution and abundance of now-threatened species. This session will explore ongoing challenges and new perspectives for documenting past cetacean exploitation from a wide range of geographic areas and time periods. Potential examples include (but are not limited to) historical, archaeological, morphological and molecular approaches for reconstructing the timing, intensity, technology and socio-economic importance of cetacean exploitation, and documenting both natural and anthropogenic impacts on large marine mammal populations worldwide.

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  • Documents (9)

  • Cetacean Exploitation in the Medieval London (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Youri Van Den Hurk.

    Zooarchaeology aims to reconstruct the relationship between humans and animals based on the bone remains of these animals. However the field is often primarily concerned with (domesticated) terrestrial mammals, frequently neglecting cetaceans. This can be ascribed to the fact that zooarchaeological cetacean remains are often too fragmented for identification and a general lack of extensive cetacean reference collections for comparison, resulting in poor understanding of early human-cetacean...

  • Cetacean Hunting on the northern Oregon Coast: Evidence from the Par-Tee Site (35CLT20) (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Gabriel Sanchez.

    Indigenous whale hunting on the Pacific Northwest Coast is predominately associated with whaling cultures north of Oregon in northern Washington and British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Ethnographic and ethno-historical records from the northern Oregon Coast suggests whaling occurred locally, at least opportunistically. To date the only physical evidence of local whaling is a humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) phalanx with an embedded elk (Cervus elaphus) bone harpoon point. A calibrated...

  • Conceptual Frameworks for Nuu-chah-nulth Whaling (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Gregory Monks.

    The Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) of Canada’s west coast are renown ethnographically for their cultural practice of open ocean whaling. Research in the last decade has shed light on the preferred species, the ecological reasons why whales were pursued, the antiquity of whaling, and the economic and social implications of whaling. Most of this research has been substantive and methodological in nature with only modest attention to theoretical issues. In this paper, I take a Human Behavioral Ecology...

  • Molecular Solutions for the Taxonomic Identification of Archaeological Whale Remains (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Camilla Speller. Anne Charpentier. Ana Rodrigues. Armelle Gardeisen. Michael Hofreiter.

    Several large cetaceans appear on the IUCN Red List, and in most cases their endangered status is considered to be the result of relatively recent industrial overhunting. Archaeological studies, however, suggest that pre-Industrial whaling as well as climatic fluctuations may have had a significant impact on whale behaviour and ecology. Documenting the impact of natural and anthropogenic factors within the archaeological records is difficult because whales are big and their bones are friable....

  • Native American Whaling and Porpoise Hunting Techniques Along the East Coast of North America (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Hairr.

    Native Americans were the first people to exploit the cetacean fauna found in the coastal waters of the western North Atlantic. Most of these animals were drift whales found washed up along the shoreline, but there is historiographical evidence indicating that some Native Americans actively pursued whales, porpoises and dolphins from small craft offshore. In this paper I discuss various tools and techniques utilized by the indigenous inhabitants of North America to pursue, harvest and process...

  • New insights into the Quileute whalers of Washington State from ecology and archaeology (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Frances Robertson. Andrew Trites.

    The Quileute people of Washington State are an ocean going people dependent on marine resources. They are skilled fishers and hunters, and like their neighbors to the north, the Makah and the Nuu-chah-nulth, they have a history of exploiting the once abundant marine resources in both coastal and offshore waters. While much is known of about the whaling activities of the Makah and the Nuu-chah-nulth, little is known about the whaling activities of the Quileute, especially 20-40 miles offshore. We...

  • Reconstructing the historical abundance and importance of large whales in northern British Columbia (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Szymon Surma. Tony Pitcher.

    Whales obtained through various combinations of hunting and scavenging have long provided coastal communities worldwide with sustenance and many raw materials. However, global whale populations have been severely depleted by commercial whaling. This study combined historical abundance reconstruction with ecosystem modelling to investigate the effects of whaling on the abundances and ecological roles of five large whale species (blue, fin, sei, humpback and sperm) in northern British Columbia...

  • Rome and cetaceans: Archaeological Evidence from the Strait of Gibraltar (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Darío Bernal-Casasola.

    Over the past 10 years, bones from whales and other marine mammals have been uncovered from archaeological excavations of Roman cities around the Straits of Gibraltar (Baetica and Mauritania Tingitana coasts). The high frequency of archaeozoological remains and their location within fish-preserving contexts (cetariae) has suggested the active exploitation of cetaceans throughout the Roman Imperial period (II BC - V AD). This paper reviews the evidence from Baelo Claudia, Iulia Traducta, Septem...

  • Transdisciplinary Approaches to Norse Use of Marine Mammals: History, Archaeology and aDNA (2017)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Vicki Szabo. Brenna McLeod Frasier.

    Historical, literary and archaeological evidence suggests frequent use of marine mammals by the Norse across the medieval North Atlantic and Eastern Subarctic, circa 870 – 1500 CE. Written records indicate the importance of cetacean species in Norse economies from Norway to Newfoundland, but especially in medieval Iceland. Archaeological assemblages from Iceland reveal an abundance of worked and waste cetacean bone, most of which are morphologically undiagnostic. As such, details on the economic...