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Reading bones: Stone Age hunters and seals in the Baltic
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Osteoarchaeological Research Laboratory.
2001 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This is a study of hunters and seals in the Stone Age in the Baltic. The ambition has been to develop and utilize methods for osteological analyses of archaeological seal bones. The main aims of the zooarchaeological analyses have been to study seal hunting strategies and the formation processes of the faunal remains. The faunal history of the harp seal in the Baltic has also been investigated.

Skeletal material from 603 modern seals in the collections of the Swedish Museum of Natural History has been studied. The archaeological source material consists of faunal re-mains recovered from 24 Stone Age sites dating to approximately 3300-1800 cal BC. Osteological analyses have been performed on seal remains primarily from Pitted Ware culture sites on Åland and Gotland, but other contemporary sites in the Baltic area have also been examined. Geographically, the analyses are limited to the southern areas of the Baltic.

The results show that the Baltic species of seals, and also the harp seal, share a similar sequence of epiphyseal fusion. There is a general connection between the skeletal development and life history stages in all species of seals. Epiphyseal fusion data can be utilized in zooarchaeolo-gical studies. The analyses have also shown that osteo-metric studies can reveal valuable infor-mation on the seasonality of hunting patterns. Criteria for the morphological identification of bones from harp seal and ringed seal have been developed.

The results of the zooarchaeological studies have confirmed the importance of the harp seal in the subsistence economy on the studied sites. Ringed seal was a common prey animal on the studied sites while grey seals occur sporadically. Stone Age hunting strategies were strongly related to behavioural patterns of the seals. The hunting cannot be characterized as a mass hunting strategy. It is argued that the harp seal formed a permanent breeding population in the Baltic Sea. The hunting pressure on the Baltic harp seal population was extensive and the human impact on the breeding potential may have been significant.

On the Stone Age sites the seals were not handled according to biological properties like species or age. Instead, the bones from all seals have been deposited together. Certain body parts seem to be handled differently than others. Especially the skulls of the seals seem to have been handled according to specific rules. A reinterpetation of the Ålandic clay idols is offered. These are seen as representations of seals rather than humans. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholms universitet , 2001. , 86 p.
Series
Stockholm Studies in Archaeology, ISSN 0349-4128 ; 21
Keyword [en]
Epiphyseal fusion, Harp seal, Marine mammals, Neolithic, Pitted Ware culture, Ringed seal, Seal hunting, Seasonality, Taphonomy
National Category
Humanities
Research subject
Archaeology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-94308ISBN: 91-7265-301-9 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-94308DiVA: diva2:653012
Public defence
2001-06-07, 10:00 (Swedish)
Opponent
Available from: 2013-10-02 Created: 2013-10-02 Last updated: 2017-09-27Bibliographically approved

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Citation style
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