Association of Environmental Archaeologists Conference 2016, Orkney
I started my PhD at UCL in October 2015, looking at cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) remains in medieval north-western Europe. The aim of my thesis is to look at all medieval sites in north-western Europe where cetacean remains have been uncovered and see whether it is possible to prove that active whaling was practiced and who had access to cetacean consumption. Through various factors (including fragmentation and lack of extensive reference collections) cetaceans have been understudied in the field of zooarchaeology, resulting in a poor understanding of human-cetacean interaction during the medieval period.
At the moment I have been able to locate over 300 medieval sites in north-western Europe where cetacean remains have been recovered and a fast quantity of these sites is located in Scotland (especially in the Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetland Isles). As stated before, cetaceans are neglected in the field of archaeology with very few people doing research on them. However, the AEA meeting (in conjunction with the Professional Zooarchaeology meeting) had a special emphasis on marine mammals in archaeology and was therefore the ideal place to present my research and get in touch with people with similar research interests and expertise. I have received lots of helpful comments and tips that will be of use to my further research and I am very grateful for the award provided by the AEA and the Scottish Archaeological Research Framework to allow me to attend the conference!
Because I am still very much in the early stages of my PhD (just 7 months into the program), I have only been able to collect data so far, but one of the things that I intend to do is get more practical experience in archaeology and get my hands on the cetacean bones, analyse them and try to identify the remains to the species or genus level. For this I am working on an osteological cetacean reference manual to help zooarchaeologists identify cetacean remains to species level. One of the areas I intend to look at the material of are the Scottish Isles, which was why the location of the conference in Kirkwall was so fantastic, with several cetacean bones being present in the Orkney Museum, including the famous Scar plaque.
I feel very lucky because the AEA and SCARF award also provides a year’s membership to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. As a new PhD student it is truly wonderful being welcomed into such a community, which can offer so much in terms of networking and research opportunities!
Youri van den Hurk
Institute of Archaeology