Tyne and Wear HER(11963): Newcastle, Byker Chare, fish bones - Details
Newcastle, Byker Chare, fish bones
During excavations at Byker Chare in 1986 around 3520 identifiable fish bones were recovered. 21 species of fish were identified, mostly from the gadoid (cod) family and herring - cod, haddock, whiting, saithe, 5-beared rockling, ling, hake. Whiting was most common. Other fish included thornback ray, eel, possibly conger eel, salmon or sea trout, smelt, angler, grey gurnard, tub gurnard, sea bream, sand eel, goby, butterfish, scad, plaice, flounder, halibut. Sandeels are now only used as bait but would have been an important food in the middle ages and feature extensively in the account rolls of the Abbey of Durham. Most of the other small fish (5-bearded rockling, butterfish and goby) were probably consumed by seabirds or other fish and their remains deposited as a result of gutting larger fish. Most of the small fish were found in a drain - may have washed in or thrown down the drain or stranded in there after high tide. The saithe were over 1m long - larger than the fish caught today. Deep water fishing and inshore fishing were practised at Newcastle. Articulated heads of a large saithe and a large cod were found without associated vertebrae, indicating that large fish were beheaded. Few fish bones had cut marks. Evidence of processing is slight. The remains could represent waste from fish markets (Stockbridge and Fishergate) and from fish landed on the Quayside in the C14. The occupants of Blackfriars ate a wide variety of fish including salmon and larger conger eels, which were uncommon in this Quayside assemblage. Perhaps these fish were highly valued and were transported whole to the purchaser. Marine molluscs were also recovered - oyster, mussel, edible periwinkle, whelk, cockle. Flat periwinkle and limpet may have been used as fish bait. Less common were dog whelk, rough periwinkle, small periwinkle, great scallop and banded venus. These may have been eaten or used as fish bait. There may have been an oyster breeding ground somewhere close (Rackham 1986). There were fragments of crab and barnacles. Mussel and periwinkle fragments had been dumped in a midden at the bottom of Byker Chare to form a street surface. Freshwater gastropods and bivalves were recovered. The sand (under one of the surfaces of Byker Chare) in which the freshwater snails were found is likely to have come from a river or other body of fresh water. The presence of estuarine and saltmarsh gastropod may indicate that the freshwater source was close to an area of brackish water, in the upper tidal reaches of an estuary, possibly the Pandon Burn.
R. Nicholson, 1989, 'The Fish Remains', 'The marine molluscs and crustaceans' and 'The non-marine molluscs' in C. O' Brien et al, 1989, Excavations at Newcastle Quayside'; Rebecca A. Nicholson, 1997, Fish Remains from Excavations near the Riverfront at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, Internet Archaeology Issue 7, http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue7/nichol_toc.html