Boom and bust at a medieval fishing port: dietary preferences of fishers and artisan families from Pontevedra (Galicia, NW Spain) during the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period

Abstract

Here, we present an investigation of dietary habits in a town whose history is strongly connected to a single food product: fish. Pontevedra (Galicia, Spain) controlled a big part of fish commerce in the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Medieval period, only losing its position with the beginning of modern era. Burials from the churches of Santa María (thirteenth to seventeenth centuries AD), the necropolis of fishers, and San Bartolomé (thirteenth to fifteenth centuries AD), with a parish mostly made up of craftspeople, were studied to address questions of diet and subsistence practices. A total of 89 samples, including 63 humans, 18 terrestrial and 8 marine animals, were analysed for isotopic composition of bone collagen (δ13C and δ15N). The results show that domestic herbivores were fed a fodder almost exclusively based on C3 plants, while dogs and a cat consumed significant quantities of fish. Humans ate a similar, mixed terrestrial/marine diet, but probably also with an important contribution from C4 plants, most likely millet, or, from c. AD 1600 onwards, maize. Fishermen and their families buried at Santa María could have had preferential access to exported target sea products enriched in 15N (salted sardine, conger eel, hake and octopus), while other marine products may have been more common on the rest of the town’s tables. The decline in fishing activity in the sixteenth–seventeenth centuries appears to have been accompanied by a diversification of diet. The dietary habits of the middle-class urban inhabitants of Pontevedra are closely connected to its economic history and environmental changes.

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Acknowledgments

Many thanks to the Museo Provincial de Pontevedra, Dirección Xeral de Patrimonio Histórico da Xunta Galicia and Tomos s.l. for providing access to the skeletal collections. Thanks to Javier Chao (director), Juan Carlos Castro and all the members of the team for their assistance during archaeological fieldwork. Advice given by Miguel Botella has been a great help in classifying skeletal features. We would like to thank Tina Moriarty for their support during collagen extraction in Reading University and Aleks Pluskowski and Laszlo Bartosiewicz for the archaeozoological identification. OLC is funded by Plan Galego I2C mod.B (ED481D 2017/014).

Funding

The research was partially funded by the projects “Galician Paleodiet”, Consiliencia network (ED 431D2017/08), axudas para o financiamento singular de grupos de investigación (2018-PU029) and “Antropoloxía dos restos óseos humanos de Galicia” (Dirección Xeral de Patrimonio Histórico), Xunta de Galicia, as well as Project CSO2014-55816-P from The Spanish Ministerio de Economía y competitividad.

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Correspondence to Olalla López-Costas.

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López-Costas, O., Müldner, G. Boom and bust at a medieval fishing port: dietary preferences of fishers and artisan families from Pontevedra (Galicia, NW Spain) during the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 3717–3731 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0733-4

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Keywords

  • Fish diet
  • Late Medieval
  • Paleodiet
  • Pontevedra
  • Stable isotopes
  • Stature