Catching tuna in the Aegean: biological background of tuna fisheries and the archaeological implications

Dimitra MYLONA

en Anthropozoologica 56 (2) - Pages 23-37

Published on 29 January 2021

Fishing for tuna in the Aegean goes back several millennia. Their bones are found in archaeological excavations and their biology, capture, processing and consumption are described in written sources of the historical era. The archaeology of tuna fishing, however, is still poorly understood and its economic importance in the Eastern Mediterranean has only recently been explored. This paper contributes to the emerging discourse around tuna and their economic and cultural significance by attempting an in-depth understanding of tuna and related fish species as a resource. It presents in some detail the biology and ethology of tuna in the context of the Aegean Sea. These are crucial factors to their exploitation by humans; they control the timing and location of their appearance and they render certain fishing and processing methods more appropriate than others. The paper also discusses some of the implication of the biological features of tuna and related species on the manner of their capture and to the development of cultural values around them. It also considers the heuristic value of these observations in the archaeological research. The examination of the biological characteristics of tuna and related members of the Scombridae family suggests that their exploitation should in fact be seen not as that of single species but of a range of different species, which share certain common characteristics, but differ in terms of size, migration timing, processing potential and quality of flesh. In this framework the exploitation of the migratory fish, of which tuna is the most emblematic, appears as a coherent activity, which was less vulnerable to yearly fluctuations in the presence of fish schools at any given fishing location. Being thus complex and flexible, it provided economic opportunities and it acquired significant cultural value for the Eastern Mediterranean cultures throughout the passage of time.


Tuna fishing, archaeology of fishing, zooarchaeology, Scombridae.

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