Ancient whale exploitation in the Mediterranean: species matters

Rodrigues, A.S.L., Horwitz, L.K., Monsarrat, S. & Charpentier, A. (2016). Ancient whale exploitation in the Mediterranean: species matters. Antiquity, 90, 928–938.

Download PDF and supplement.


The identity of whale species in ancient records matters to archaeologists and historians too, since these marine mammals vary enormously in their ecology, behaviour and morphology, factors which have influenced the way in which they interacted with, and were exploited by, people in the past . In particular, while most whale species inhabit the high seas, and were only sporadically accessible to past peoples, some species concentrate regularly and predictably close to the coastline, where they could be actively and more easily pursued. Thus, identifying the species of whale represented in archaeological collections and historical sources can shed light on the history of their exploitation. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the utility of identifying whale species in the archaeological record as a key for elucidating the value of whales as resources for past peoples in the circum-Mediterranean region. We explore the hypothesis that Mediterranean whale communities might have changed substantially over the past centuries, and discuss how the whale species assemblage may have influenced the feasibility of ancient whaling in this region.