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Fish Processing in the Mediterranean: Varying Traditions, Technologies and Scales of Production with Particular Reference to the Eastern Mediterranean

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Research into the processing of marine resources along the Mediterranean coasts in antiquity reveals an uneven picture. The archaeological evidence for the systematic processing of fish and seafood in the western part is abundant and varied. Here, the production of salted fish and fish sauces seems to have been an important factor contributing to economic growth in many locations. In the eastern part of the Mediterranean, however, archaeological evidence for the processing of marine resources is much less common and is often indirect. Large-scale processing plants are virtually absent from the archaeological record and there are few studies of the remains of fish and shellfish or of other material evidence relating to fish preservation and commerce. Yet written evidence on the subject abounds, but places heavy emphasis on consumption and commerce rather than production. This paper describes the evidence and explores possible reasons for this imbalanced representation in an attempt to assess the actual importance of the processing of marine resources across the whole Mediterranean region. Issues discussed are the shifting emphasis on fish processing across space and through time, archaeological research agendas and methodologies, resource availability and abundance and, finally, issues of scale and visibility.
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Vol.:(0123456789)
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11457-018-9217-z
1 3
ORIGINAL PAPER
Fish Processing intheMediterranean: Varying Traditions,
Technologies andScales ofProduction withParticular
Reference totheEastern Mediterranean
DimitraMylona1
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018
Abstract
Research into the processing of marine resources along the Mediterranean coasts in antiq-
uity reveals an uneven picture. The archaeological evidence for the systematic processing
of fish and seafood in the western part is abundant and varied. Here, the production of
salted fish and fish sauces seems to have been an important factor contributing to economic
growth in many locations. In the eastern part of the Mediterranean, however, archaeologi-
cal evidence for the processing of marine resources is much less common and is often indi-
rect. Large-scale processing plants are virtually absent from the archaeological record and
there are few studies of the remains of fish and shellfish or of other material evidence relat-
ing to fish preservation and commerce. Yet written evidence on the subject abounds, but
places heavy emphasis on consumption and commerce rather than production. This paper
describes the evidence and explores possible reasons for this imbalanced representation in
an attempt to assess the actual importance of the processing of marine resources across the
whole Mediterranean region. Issues discussed are the shifting emphasis on fish process-
ing across space and through time, archaeological research agendas and methodologies,
resource availability and abundance and, finally, issues of scale and visibility.
Keywords Fish processing· Eastern Mediterranean· Salting vats· Fish remains· Salted
fish
* Dimitra Mylona
dmylona@hotmail.com
1 Institute forAegean Prehistory-Study Centre forEast Crete, Lasithi, Greece
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
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Introduction
Archaeological evidence for the systematic processing of fish1 and sea food in the western
and central parts of the Mediterranean is abundant and varied.2 Fish processing and also
other marine industries, such as the purple dye production, seem to have been important
drivers of economic growth in certain locations and at specific points in time. Excavations
and the study of bio-archaeological remains, amphorae and related structures document the
existence, in antiquity, of an articulated economic activity of considerable scale, with sig-
nificant implications for regional economic growth. By contrast, in the eastern part of the
Mediterranean, archaeological evidence for the processing of marine resources is much less
common and often indirect. Processing establishments appear to be almost absent from the
archaeological record. Yet, references to the subject in the written record, mostly literature,
are common. Most of these place heavy emphasis on consumption and commerce rather
than production.This paper explores this imbalance, revisits key research assumptions and
suggests some reasons for the archaeological invisibility of fish processing installations on
the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean.
The history of fish processing in the Mediterranean Sea, which begun several millen-
nia before it flourishedin the Roman period and lasted several centuries after the collapse
of the Roman Empire, clearly illustrates that the pre-eminence of the western Mediterra-
nean in the production of processed fish is time-specific, defined more by historical cir-
cumstances than by the physical attributes of the region such as the abundance of fish
resources. A review of the marine resources used in the fish processing industry makes
it clear that availability and choice are both significant factors in the setting up of fish
processing installations. Taking these into consideration the issue of the scarcity of fish
processing installations on the eastern Mediterranean coasts is reconsidered by focusing
on the criteria used to identify a fish processing plant. It is suggested that in this region,
salteries (fish processing plants), probably of smaller scale than their west Mediterranean
equivalents,have not been getting identified as such and have probably been misinterpreted
because of the dominant local archaeological discourse.
Shifting Fish Processing Realities Over Time andSpace
It is often repeated in the literature that the art of industrial (or semi-industrial) fish preser-
vation was brought to the west by the Phoenicians (e.g. Curtis 1991: 46–47) or the Greeks
(Étienne 1970), or both (Curtis 1991: 46–48; Botte 2016). They had mastered the art in
1 In this paper the term processed fish or salted fish is used in a generic manner. Processing leads to a very
wide range of products, dry or liquid, and is done by a number of techniques such as salting, drying, smok-
ing, marination, fermentation and any combination of them (e.g. Curtis 2001: 402–417; Botte 2009: 14–21).
2 The division of the Mediterranean into eastern and western on cultural grounds is far from straightfor-
ward, and it encompasses a number of different points of view (for an indicative discussion see Antonaccio
2009). This paper adopts a more or less physiographic division of the Mediterranean basin and its coasts
along a notional line that extends from the eastern coast of the Italian peninsula and Sicily, east of Malta
and roughly to the western borders of modern Libya (see for example Coll et al. 2010). Also, the term
“Black Sea” includes the Sea of Marmara that links it to the Aegean Sea. The literature on the various
aspects of fish preservation in antiquity is vast. For this paper only a small fraction of it, mostly more recent
or synthetic works, have been indicatively used.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
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their homelands on the eastern Mediterranean coasts, and had brought it along in the areas
they colonised. Leaving aside the issue of timing and process of introduction, it seems to
be a fact that fish preservation technology was very long-lived in the eastern Mediterranean
(see also Theodoropoulou this volume). The earliest, indirect evidence dates to the Meso-
lithic period, roughly 11 millennia before present, and to the earlier phases of the Neolithic
and the evidence is mostly from theeastern Mediterranean. Fishing appears to have been
particularly important atcoastal settlements of that time, and it involved a variety of fish
resources, including the migratory tunas and other Scombridae. Almost all the evidence at
our disposal comes from theeastern Mediterranean.3 In at least four of the sites (Cave of
Cyclops, Maroulas, Vela Spila and Cape Andreas-Kastros), fish preservation is suggested
on the basis of uneven skeletal representation. For certain taxa, the head bones and the first
vertebrae appear to be seriously under-represented and this has been linked to fish process-
ing. In one case, at the open air site of Maroulas, again in the Aegean, whole beheaded fish
have been found buried (or stored) in the floor of semi-subterranean huts (Mylona 2010;
Sampson etal. 2010). A possible case of triggerfish (Balistes carolinensis) processing is
also attested in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic C site of Atlit-Yam on the coast of Israel (ca 8200
and 7900 BP; Zohar etal. 2001) and a concentration of tuna vertebrae at the Neolithic site
of Saliaggos (Renfrew etal. 1968; Rose 1994: 437–438) could be related to fish preserva-
tion as well.
Later in time in the Bronze Age, we find evidence for fish processing in Egypt, and
also in Greece.4 A relief from the “Tomb of the Two Brothers” in Predynastic Egypt (ca
2500 BC) illustrates gutted fish, opened up and dried, and probably also salted (Brewer
and Friedman 1989: 12–13).5 On Crete, in Ourania Cave, on the far east of the island,
Fig. 1 Remains of processed
common dentex (Dentex dentex)
found in association with the
vessel that contained “fish paste”
(Excavations at Akrotiri photo-
graphic archive)
3 Eastern Mediterranean: Franchthi Cave - Greece: Payne (1975); Rose (1995); Cave of Cyclops, Yioura
island – Greece: Mylona (2011); Powell (2011); Maroulas on Kythnos island – Greece: Mylona (2010);
Cape Andreas-Kastros – Cyprus: Desse and Desse-Berset (1994); Vela Spila – Croatia: Rainsford et al.
(2014). Western Mediterranean, Sicily: Grotta del Uzzo: Mannino etal. (2007).
4 This short review only includes evidence from coastal Mediterranean sites. Contemporary evidence from
inland Anatolian sites is excluded. Also cases with unclear taphonomic or depositional circumstances are
excluded.
5 For the likelihood of the use of salt in fish processing in prehistoric Egypt see Curtis (2001: 174–175).
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
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actual Minoan salt has been found dating to the 18th century BC. While some of this salt
is pure, some contains traces from the organic material that was preserved in it (Kopaka
and Chaniotakis 2003) demonstrating that the concept of food preservation in salt was
already established at this time.A few centuries later in the 16th century BC at Akrotiri, on
the island of Thera (Santorini), people were preserving fish in various forms.So far three
preparations have been uncovered: firstly, dried fish with the vertebral column removed
(Fig.1); secondly, whole fish in a large storage vessel found with cereal seeds; and thirdly,
fish paste stored in a small storage vessel (Fig.2). The paste was made of small inshore
fish such as picarel and tiny stingrays (Mylona forthcoming), the type of fish regularly
eaten on site (Mylona 2000). This preparationappeared macroscopically to be very similar
to allec but chemical analysis suggests that this was not a fermented product but rather a
cooked product with a long shelf life (Garnier and Mylona 2017). Some indirect evidence
on tuna fishing, and by inference perhaps fish salting as well, date a few centuries later in
the Mycenean period. A hydria from a12th century burial site on island of Naxos in the
Cyclades depicts a fishing scene. A group of fishermen caught a school of large fish (prob-
ably tunas) using a beach seine net (Hadjianastasiou 1991). A similar composition is seen
on a Mycenean crater fragment from Livanates, Locris (illustrated in Γεροντάκου 2011,
with references). Fish preservation in the eastern Mediterranean at this time is also indi-
rectly documented by the presence of marine speciesat theinland sites of Anatolia. Given
the perishable nature of fish in the hot climate of the area, we may safely assume that the
fish reached these places in a processed form (Van Neer etal. 2004; Van Neer and Waelk-
ens 2007; Von Den Driech 1996).6
After the Bronze Age and until the 5th century BC the record on processed fish in the
Mediterranean is rathersparse. This coincides with the most crucial period for the diffu-
sion of the art of fish preservation throughout the Mediterranean (for some possible excep-
tions in the Cádiz area, García-Vargas 2001: 25; see also Trakadas 2005: 47 note 6 and
for a more systematic treatment of the subject see Sáez-Romero 2014). According to the
established paradigm, fish processing was adopted at various places around the Mediterra-
nean and in the Black Sea (Étienne 1970: 298; Curtis 1991: 46–47 with references to older
Fig. 2 Remains of the “fish
paste” recovered inside a small
storage vessel, destruction hori-
zon, Akrotiri, Thera (Excavations
at Akrotiri photographic archive)
6 In several of these cases it is not possible to discern whether the fish are of a Mediterranean or a Red Sea
origin.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
literature, 2001: 319–321; García-Vargas 2001; Botte 2009: 23–24, 2016; Lowe 1997:
52–77). By the 5thcentury, however, a network of production, exchange and consumption
of preserved fish products was already established at many coastal locations in this region,
and some of these locations were widely acclaimed for the excellence of their product. We
have at our disposalboth archaeological and literary evidence for thetrade in preserved
fish from the far west of theMediterranean and also, dating from the same period, we
have the first archaeological evidence for salteries both in the central Mediterranean and
along the northern coast of Africa.7 There appears to be a consensus that the knowledge
moved from east towards the west at some point, perhaps as part of the colonisation pack-
age (Morales-Muñiz and Roselló-Izquierdo 1988; Sáez-Romero 2011; Muñoz-Vicente
and Sáez-Romero 2016: 31; Curtis 1991: 46–47). The mechanism is not clear; who taught
whom what is not very clear either, but in Sicily and Magna Grecia we have evidence for a
parallel process with both Greek and Phoenician style salting vats existing simultaneously
(Botte 2016: 239–244).
From this time forward, the only material evidence for fish preservation in the east
(Black Sea excluded) comes from consumption contexts and this is mostly in the form
of imported salted fish and fish sauces (Curtis 1991: 112–147 with references to specific
cases; Theodoropoulou 2014).8 These products get recognised mostly because of the con-
tainers they are in (e.g. Curtis 2005: 40–42; Botte 2012), or because they are found far
awayfrom the sea (e.g. Van Neer etal. 2010). Otherwise, bones of preserved fish of com-
mon species go unidentified in the mass of the remains of ordinary fresh consumed fish.
No salting vats have been reported, with the exception of a few cases that are very poorly
documented (e.g. Pirazzoli 1987). The written record (literary texts and inscriptions mostly
from the Classical period and later), however, illustrates fish processing in the Aegean Sea
and eastern Mediterranean more broadly, as a rather widespread activity, pertinent to the
economy of several locations (Curtis 1991: 116–118, 129; Lytle 2006: esp. 51–53, 54–55,
114–143).
What is particularly interesting is that in certain cases people chose to import and con-
sume preserved fish of species that were also available locally. A well-known example of
this is the case of the tuna and sea breams from Classical Corinth that were found to have
originated from Gades/Cádiz (Williams 1978; Zimmerman-Munn 2003; Maniatis et al.
1984: 208–221; Theodoropoulou 2014). It seems that these imports catered togastronomic
and social needs rather than purely dietary ones (Mylona 2008: 86–88). Consumption
habits, market demand and taste preferences seem to be crucial and rather under-explored
aspects of the subject (for these factors as a driving force in developments in fish process-
ing and marketing, see Wilkins, Grainger, andWeingarten inthis volume).
Production in thefish factories that dotted the coastlines of thewestern Mediterranean
and theBlack Sea at the height of theRoman era saw a marked decline after the 3rd cen-
tury AD, with some fish processing sites functioning at a smaller scale until the 5th or 6th
centuries (Wilson 2006: 54–57; Trakadas 2005: 74–75; Botte 2009: 104, Table2; Højte
7 On written evidence Botte (2009: 53–60), Curtis (1991: esp. 6–7), Garcia-Vargas and Ferrer-Albelda
(2012); on the earlier archaeological evidence for fish processing indicatively Çakırlar etal. (2016); Cur-
tis (1991: 47–48); Morales-Muñiz and Roselló-Izquierdo (2012); Muñoz-Vicente etal. (1988: 490–496);
Trakadas (2005: 46–47, 2018); for the central Mediterranean Botte (2009: 73–82, 2016); for north Africa:
Trakadas (2015); for the Black Sea: Højte (2005); Bekker-Nielsen (2016).
8 Written sources from various regions along the coasts of eastern Mediterranean, besides the Aegean Sea,
complement our current knowledge on the consumption of processed fish, imported or produced locally, in
these areas (see Weingarten this volume; Χουλιάρα - Ραου 2003; Berdowski 2008).
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
2005, esp. 144, 149, 154; Čechová 2014). It seems certain that shifts in the Roman politi-
cal economy, political instability, invasions and wars affected both the production and the
consumption side of the fish preservation business (e.g. Reese 1981: 27–38; Cleary 2013:
318–319). What happened after that, in the Middle Ages is not very clear (Curtis 1991:
184–190). In the western Mediterranean the picture is picked up again after the 16th cen-
tury and at this date most of the evidence concerns the tonnaras, fish traps for migratory
species, of a type that still exists in some parts of the Mediterranean today(Di Natale 2012;
Maurici and Vergara 1991; Bennis 1996: 57–58; Ravier and Fromentin 2001). In the east-
ern part, however, where new empires were set up (the Byzantine, and later the Ottoman),
fish preservation is frequentlydocumented (Curtis 1991: 188–190; Bortoli and Kazanski
2002; Dagron 1995; Jacoby 2009; Κουκουλές 1952; Lytle 2006: 109–113; for 9th–12th
centuries, see Cechová 2014; Barkai etal. 2013; Ragia this volume) but the issue remains
mostly unexploredarchaeologically (see Bekker-Nielsen and Gertwagen 2016: 19–20).
In this very brief and schematic review it can be seen that the knowledge and practice
of fish preservation was established in the eastern Mediterranean for millennia before it
became a standardised widespread industrial9 activity along wide stretches of the Medi-
terranean coastline. It is also evident that an articulated taste for the various fish products
was already developed there prior to the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. When
the large fish factories in the Black Sea, in Sicily, and around theStraits of Gibraltar were
set up, and sent their products to distant places, a demand for this type of food had already
been developed (Mylona 2008: 86–88, Table7.2). There was also, around the coast in cer-
tain areas of the eastern Mediterranean, local, organised production.10 These local products
sometimes had areputation for excellence anda brand name (e.g. Thasia almi in the5th
century BC, Kyprion to tarichos, in the3rd century BC, garos from Clazomenae, Curtis
1991: 118; Lytle 2006: 51–52).
The Fishing Resources: Observations onVariety andAvailability
Enrique Garcia-Vargas (2016) has demonstrated the integrated nature of the al madraba,
the systematic, large scale capture of tunas in antiquity up to early modern times. Accord-
ing to Garcia-Vargas it was an economic activity that was closely linked not only to the
marine ecosystems, to specialised knowledge and technical skills, but also to a complex
social system and to historically specific professional relationships. A similar view could
be taken for any kind of fish processing at a commercial scale that involved specialised
knowledge, complex infrastructure, commercial networksand so on.11 Here I will deal with
one aspect of this complex system, the fish resource and its significance in the setting up of
a fish salting enterprise.
9 The term “industrial” is used in this discussion on fish processing in a pre-industrial era in a conventional
manner, following the rationale presented by Marzano (2013). It refers to “the production of salted fish and
other fish by products for regional and interregional commercialization” (Marzano 2013: 301) without pre-
suming particular standards in scale of production, number of employees etc.
10 These cases, known mostly from written sources, are discussed and appraised in a number of publica-
tions; some take an optimistic view to their scale and regional significance (e.g. in Curtis 1991: 116–118,
129; Theodoropoulou 2014), while others are more reserved (e.g. Lytle 2006: 52–53, 2012: 24–36, 2016a,
b, and this volume).
11 This analogical perception of processing of fish other than tunas is a topic that requires further research.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
Historical and archaeological research suggests that fish processing involved a wide
range of marine species. Pelagic, seasonal schooling taxa, large and small, formed the
bulk of the processed fish. Tunas, mackerels and other members of the Scombridae fam-
ily along with their prey species, sardines, anchovies etc. (e.g. for Italian and Sicilian salt
vats Botte 2009: 53–57; for Baelo Claudia Bernal-Casasola etal. 2016; more generally
Grainger 2013), along with some of the euryaline fish which show seasonal movement pat-
terns such as the mullets and eels (e.g. Højte 2005: 139), can all be caught in large quanti-
ties per fishing effort and that makes them an obvious choice for fish processing. Other
inshore fish were caught as well: various species of Sparidae (e.g. Bernal-Casasola 2016:
note 47), freshwater fish (e.g. Cilhids: Barkai etal. 2013; Højte 2005: 140; various Nilotic
fish: Van Neer and Depraetere 2005) and also molluscs such as limpets, oysters or purple
shellfish were also used (e.g. Bernal-Casasola 2016; Botte 2009: 59–60). There is evidence
that even marine mammals’ meat was processed (Bernal-Casasola 2016: 198 with refer-
ences). Undoubtedly too, resources which were abundant locally were not overlooked, for
example the Cilchidae in Israel (Barkai etal. 2013) or the lake fish Danube bleak—Chal-
calburnus chalcoides—on the coasts of Lave Volvi in northern Greece (Mylona 2008:58).
The inshore fish, which are caught in smaller numbers per fishing effort and often in mixed
catches appear at a first glance to be less suitable to processing (for the mixed catches of
inshore fish see Mylona 2008: 37). The fact that they were, nevertheless, regularly used is
probably an indication that fish processing plants were linked to the wider fishing sector
and not just to specialised seasonal fisheries. This observation might have heuristic value in
any future search for the ancient fish processing installations of the eastern Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean has, however, a very diverse marine environment in many respects
(floor bed morphology, currents, water temperature, salinity and nutrients content), and this
has a direct effect on biodiversity (Coll etal. 2010; Morales-Muñíz 2007: esp. 26–28); thus
fish variety and abundance differ considerably from place to place.12 Although there is a
basic east–west division (Coll etal. 2010) the actual situation is far more complicated. The
case of the Aegean Sea can illustrate this point quite effectively. Situated in the distinctly
oligotrophic eastern Mediterranean, it nevertheless includesareas that arehighly eutrophic,
even by world standards, which, in the past supported fisheries of significant economic and
cultural importance at a local or regional scale (for discussion and references see Mylona
2008: 33–66: esp. 33–34).
In any discussion of thefish salting industries of the ancient Mediterranean, adjacent
bodies of water and their resources also need to be considered. It appears that fish factories
on the Atlantic coasts off the Straits of Gibraltar functioned on a par with those on the
Mediterranean side of the Straits to exploit Atlantic resources and supply a pan-Mediterra-
nean market (e.g. Edmondson 1987; Ponsich 1988; Trakadas 2005,2018; Bernal-Casasola
and Sáez-Romero 2008; Bombico 2015). Similarly, the Black Sea, which for physical and
cultural reasons had a close affinity to the Aegean Sea and the Greek world, produced salt
fish products that were traded in Greek territories (Curtis 1991: 118–129; Braund 1995;
but see Russell 2017: 142–160; Lytle 2016a, b; for a different interpretation see Bekker-
Nielsen 2016: esp. 289–291).
In the discourse on fish salting industries in antiquity, the abundance of fish is often
viewed as a crucial factor for the establishment of fish salting industries. In this framework,
the setting up of fish factories in theRoman provinces in the 1st centuries BC/AD such as
12 An instructive example of how physical variables affect the presence of bluefin tunas in the Gulf of Lyon
has been published by Royer etal. 2004.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
Lusitania, Baetica and Tingitana, but also in the north Black Sea, can be explained by the
abundance of the migratory fish, especially tunas, off their coasts (e.g. in Curtis 1991: 50,
118; Ponsich 1988: 30–43 esp. 38–39; García-Vargas and Florido del Corral 2011: 234).
Undoubtedly fish salteries and the availability of rich marine resources are strongly linked
(Curtis 1991; García-Vargas and Florido del Corral 2011: 233–238). In this relationship,
however, the size of both the fishing industry and the fish resource can vary.
Richness of fish resources in this frame of reference is actually a fluid parameter which
depends on accessibility, and on the fishermen’s ability to catch and utilise the fish. It is
also linked to the economic viability of the fishing and processing endeavours. Large land-
ings of fish and the systematic processing of marine products require not only a market to
direct them to, but also a supporting complementary economy which would facilitate it
(production of salt, containers, yarns and other netting material, etc.—e.g. Garcia-Vargas
2016; Marzano 2013: 121 with reference to specific cases). Both the written evidence and
some archaeological finds make it clear that eastern Mediterranean provided an insatiable
market for fish products, both imported and local (Curtis 1991; Wilkins 2005; Berdowski
2008). Demand for salted fish, garos and other fish sauces, was generated not only by the
elites but by all social strata (Marzano 2013: 93–97). Preserved fish in its various forms
seem to have had occupied a very distinct space in the culinary traditions of eastern Medi-
terranean societies, but also contributed to a system of metaphors in the arena of social,
political and religious beliefs (Mylona 2008: 110–111; Marzano 2013; Wilkins thisvol-
ume). The same written sources refer to locations where local marine resources were uti-
lised and salt fish and sauces produced, some of which even acquired fame for their excel-
lence (Curtis 1991: 113–118). The scale of these endeavours can only be hypothesised. The
details of their workings elude us and the archaeological record of them is non-existent.
The Elusive Fish Processing Sector oftheEconomy intheEastern
Mediterranean
The dearth of archaeological evidence for fish salteries in the eastern part of the Medi-
terranean is puzzling and it has elicited comments from various researchers (e.g. Curtis
1991: 112; Højte 2005: 156; Lytle this volume; Theodoropoulou this volume).13 One of
the suggested explanations appears to offer a promising direction for future research. If
the scale of most fish processing plants on the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean was
small, as workshops rather than industries (e.g. Trakadas 2015: 14; Lytle this volume), then
less conspicuous remains would have been left on the coasts or within coastal settlements.
On the shores of thewestern Mediterranean and on the Atlantic coasts off the Straits of
Gibraltar some of the processing sites consisted of cetaria (fish processing plants), with
several salting vats each.It is clear that they were designed to produce very large amounts
of salted fish and fish sauces and left behind remarkable architectural features in the coastal
landscape (http://rampp a.ddns.net/). Production on a small scale could, however, be done
in a number of ways: in large clay containers such as pithoi, as suggested by Botte (this
volume) in the case of pre-Roman Sicily and Italy or in single vats (as suggested here, see
below) or even, in the case of dry-curing (e.g. salting and air-drying), in perishable set ups
such as cane frames or mats for drying fish.
13 Discussion of a similar phenomenon on the Italian coasts (Marzano 2007) has led to some insights that
are shared by the present author and are presented in detail here, with reference to the Aegean context.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
To the issue of visibility (or lack of visibility) due to the scale of fish production I would
like to add the significance of the local archaeological research traditions and the state of
archaeological research more generally, both of which make the potential remains of this
kind quite invisible.
Several authors have proposed a number of criteria by which we can identify a fish pro-
cessing installation (e.g. Trakadas 2005; Højte 2005); an archaeological site may be inter-
preted as a fish salting establishment if several of the following conditions are met:
Location in an area with rich fish resources (Trakadas 2005: 69).
Existence of vats, some with specific construction features (plastering, depression in
floor, particular shape, varying sizes, etc.). Vats may be found in clusters (e.g. Bernal-
Casasola 2016) or as individual features (e.g. Tyritake, north Black Sea, single vat in
the so called House of a local fisherman, see Højte 2005: 144–147). Sometimes vats
may be absent and large clay vessels such as the dolia could be used instead (Curtis
2016).
Association with building complexes in urban or coastal settings (e.g. Lixus, Trakadas
2015: 48–53, 2018: 234–264 with bibliography).
Content of vats that includes many amphora fragments as part of the filling debris and
often some fish bones, shells, amorphous fish dark matter as part of the original depos-
its (Bernal-Casasola 2016: 197–198).
Presence of fishing implements such as fish hooks, net weights, netting needles, in the
vicinity of fishing vats and associated spaces (e.g. de Frutos etal. 1988; Bekker-Nielsen
2016: 295 citing Marcenko etal. 2000: 175–179; Trakadas this volume).
Often fish processing installations have a more or less direct association with
Hearths or hypocausts for the processing of the fish sauces (e.g. Trakadas 2005: 72).
Water features such as cisterns, wells, drains, aqueducts or proximity to fresh water
sources (Trakadas 2005: 69–70; Sanchez 2018).
Pottery kilns for insitu production of transportation vessels (Trakadas 2005: 72–73).
Identifying these features as diagnostic of fish salteries is not, however, a self-evident
procedure and it depends not only on local archaeological traditions but also on the famili-
arity of excavators with the distinctive features of structures related to the exploitation of
marine resources. Here, examples of this phenomenon will be drawn from Greece, an area
with a rich written record on processed fish products but with an almost total absence of
archaeological evidence for the local production of them.
In a Greek archaeological context it is quite likely that one vat or a cluster of vats would
not be identified as related to fish industry. They could be identified, for instance, as dye-
ing works, wine or olive presses etc. (examples of vats morphologically similar to salting
vats in Hellenistic Helike: Katsonopoulou 2011; for a presentation of other Classical and
Hellenistic sites Monaghan 2001). Any associated water or fire features would be linked to
those activities. The juxtaposition between an example from the Black Sea and one from
the Aegean is instructive. At Tyritake in the Black Sea, a group of clay pyramidal weights
wasfound next to fish salting vats and were interpreted as net weights (Højte 2005: 144,
147). Similar concentrations of clay weights that have been found in association to the vats
excavated at Hellenistic Helike have been interpreted as loom weights and provided an
argument in favour of interpreting the site as a dyeing workshop (Katsonopoulou 2011).
Although in the Helike case, and other similar ones, the site could indeed be a dyeing
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
installation, it is interesting that no consideration has been given to alternative interpreta-
tions related to marine products.
It has been regularly noted that most of the fish bones found in salting vats are from
small fish, such as sardines or anchovies (Bernal-Casasola 2016: 196). These would prob-
ably not have been recovered and identified because water flotation or fine sieving was
typically not carried out during most Classical excavations and consequently such small
remains are likely to have been lost (Mylona 2003).14 Moreover, very often no analysis of
the animal remains from these excavations is performed, and there is no publication of such
finds, even if they exist.15 The fishing implements, which are often found in association
with the salteries, are usually of a generic nature, similar to those found in any settlement
(e.g. Baelo Claudia: Bernal-Casasola etal. 2016; Carteia: Expósito-Alvarez and García-
Pantoja 2012: 312–315). Their relevance to fish salting can only be assessed through their
contextual associations. Although they have been collected and processed, they are either
just mentioned in short reports or are presented in a catalogue form, completely out of
context (for a representative collection of cases see Mylona 2008, Appendix3, 137–139)
so their significance is lost. In short, at least in Greece, but probably in other eastern Medi-
terranean countries with similar archaeological traditionstoo, fish processing installations
might exist but remain unnoticed, unidentified or misidentified. The two following cases
document the problem in some detail.
On the island of Poros, known in antiquity as Kalaureia, in theSaronic Gulf, the Swed-
ish Institute in Athens conducted excavations at the Sanctuary of Poseidon. Two research
programs were undertaken, both of which were focussed on very specific questions and
adopted suitable field techniques to answer them.The first of these searched for the mate-
rial evidence of everyday life in a Greek sanctuary, and the second explored the relation-
ship between cult (the God), people (the City) and the sea (for details and bibliography
for the following discussion Mylona etal. 2013 and Mylona 2015). This area is very rich
in marine resources and is famous for its fisheries. Tunas and other Scombridae migrate
through the seas here and even today catches of these fish are very rich. The area also
Fig. 3 Tuna vertebrae from the Hellenistic horizon at the Sanctuary of Poseidon at Kalaureia (Poros),
Greece (C. Mausy—The Kalaureia Research Program photographic archive)
14 The problem of retrieval biases and the visibility of the fish record is shared by other areas around the
Mediterranean (e.g. Morales-Muñiz and Roselló-Izquierdo 2016: 31–33; Zohar and Belmaker 2005) and
the benefits of meticulous sieving or water floatation in the research on fish processing are clearly demon-
strated in some recent comprehensive excavation programs (e.g. Bernal-Casasola 2016: esp. 193).
15 In recent years this situation is changing with remarkable results (Post 2017; MacKinnon 2018).
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
has, and had in antiquity, extensive coastal lagoons and coastal marshes suitable for salt
production. Fishing was very prominent in the sanctuary throughout its history from the
Archaic to the Roman period. The evidence takes the form of fish bones, sea shells, fishing
implements and even seawater, which was used for ritual purposes. One of the interesting
features of the fish bone assemblage from this site is that tunas and other Scombridae only
appear in the Hellenistic horizon and are represented only by vertebrae (Fig.3). No head or
pectoral bones have been found. Bones from inshore fish exhibit a more balanced anatomi-
cal distribution. Beheading, as part of the process of fish salting, would explain this phe-
nomenon. Some of the tuna bones come from a really large individual of over two meters
long, while others are from fish of more moderate size (ca 1.5 m). Most of these bones
were part of the debris of a large feast which took place around 165 BC.
From the same period, the Hellenistic, are two copies of the same inscription which were
erected/found at nearby Troizen and up the coast, at Epidaurus. The inscription documented
the aim of regulating the sharing of the profits of some commonly held resources between
two cities, Troizen and most probably Arsinoe. This text has attracted considerable interest
and it has been analysed and contextualised (Lytle 2006: 119–129). What is particularly
interesting for the current argument is that among the common resources mentioned on the
inscription were the tuna fisheries and the salt pans. Tuna fisheries and salt production of
considerable scale speak clearly of the possibility of fish salteries in the area. The fish bone
record from the nearby Sanctuary of Poseidon provides additional supporting evidence.
Nowadays there is a spot on the coast near Arsinoe called Thynni, the Greek name for the
tuna trap; an actual trap is still visible there. A survey in the area some decades ago located
indeterminate ruins at that location (Foxhall etal. 1997: 272) but these are not visible today.
Based on all these lines of evidence we may reasonably hypothesise that the area roughly
defined by Kalaureia, Troizen and Methana peninsula hosted fish salting installation(s).
It appears, then, that in the Hellenistic period preserved fish were produced in the area.
Perhaps some of these products were brought at the sanctuary either as offerings or as food
contributions to feasts. Perhaps the fishermen and the people who worked at this saltery, or
a similar one in the area, were the dedicators of the fish as well as of the many fishing tools
found there. Alternatively, the sanctuary may have owned a thynneion (tuna catching instal-
lations) and thus had some involvement in the fish salting industry. These are all practices
known in Hellenistic Aegean (Lytle 2012: 24–36, 2016a: 118; Mylona 2015: 406–410). It is
interesting that in the same sanctuary we also find evidence for offerings composed of pur-
ple-dye shells (Bolinus brandnaris), perhaps from people involved in purple dye production
in the area. This is another marine industry for which this region was famous in antiquity
(Mylona 2015: 402–403).16 It appears that this is a promising area in a search for fish preser-
vation installations.Yet, so far, they have neither been located nor identified.
The second example pertains to Roman Crete. As research stands at the moment,
it appears that two typical coastal features of the Roman Empire, the purple dye work-
shops and the fish tanks,17 are found on Crete as well. The first have not been studied and
16 For the complementarity of fish salting, purple dye production and salt production see Lowe this vol-
ume; Ponsich and Tarradell 1965: 102; Curtis 1991: 65.
17 The so called “fish tanks” are large vats that were used in antiquity either to keep fish alive after their
capture or to breed fish in (Higginbotham 1997). Their sizes along with certain structural features, such as
the presence of channels that permit the circulation of sea water in the tank (and grills that prevent fish from
escaping) are used as identification markers. These set the coastal rock-cut fish tanks apart from similarly
shaped features such as the fish salting vats.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
published in any detail, and the actual presence of the purple dye workshops is inferred
by the abundance of purple-dye shells among Roman ruins (e.g. Chersonessos: Harrison
1994: 195; Kydonia: Τσίγγου 2009; Leuke Island: Παπαδάκης 1983). The second, the
fish tanks, have not been properly excavated or published either. The actual tanks, how-
ever, have been cleared from the rubble but their surroundings remain unexcavated. Sev-
eral have been located on the Cretan rocky coasts (for a review and further bibliography
Francis 2010) and they have mostly been published as markers of sea level change (Black-
man 1973; Flemming and Pirazzoli 1981; Price et al. 2002; Gaki-Papanastasiou et al.
2009; Mourtzas 2012). We only have photographs, sketches and measurements of these
features. These so-called fish tanks are found eithersingly or in clusters, and most have
some typical fish tank features, such as the channels that feed them with sea water or, in
some cases, a superstructure that controlled the environmental conditions in the fish tanks.
Some other features, however, are dubious. At Siteia, on northeast Crete, there is a cluster
of at least ten fish tanks that were roofed in antiquity (Davaras 1974). Not all of them were
connected to the sea. Some were even too small to be fish tanks and additionally some
were plastered with hydraulic cement. At Chersonisos, where another cluster of fish tanks
has been reported (Leathan and Hood 1958–1959: 267–270; Mandalaki 2013), the sea in
front of these features was strewn with amphorae fragments (which remain unstudied) and
the channels that linked them to the sea were unusually narrow. Additionally, one of the
tanks had rounded corners (Francis 2010: 259–260)echoing the salting vats in this respect.
The importance of fishing and the sea products in Chersonisos in the Roman period is fur-
ther implied not only by the find of large amounts of crushed purple shells and a presumed
purple dye workshop(Harrison 1994: 195) but also by a pyramidal fountain decorated with
mosaics that depict fish and seafood (Sanders 1982: 145–146). The unusual features of
these cases and of others on the island (Francis 2010) have generated some discussion as to
their use. Apart from the rather hazy attribution of these structures to fish keeping or fish
breeding, the rock-cut tanks have also been linked to salt production (Francis 2010: 270;
Hadjidaki 1988: 464; Flemming and Pirazzoli 1981) or to thepurple dye industry, with the
tanks being used to breed(?) the purple shells (Francis 2010: 270). No connection to fish
salting has been proposed, although several of the aforementioned features are compatible
to such a function.
The two case studies discussed here are not meant to be taken as proof for the existence
of a fish processing industry on the coasts of the Aegean Sea. The scale of operations in a
local and regional context and their relationship to the broader fishing sector,as well as the
degree to which such an industry was embedded in the broader economy of the circum-
Aegean regions (and even more distant areas on the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean),
are important parameters that require focused treatment (see relevant points discussed by
Lytle this volume). They do serve, however, to demonstrate that in this particular area of
the Mediterranean, our current knowledge about the exploitation of marine resources is
still sketchy and uncertain. Much focused and informed research is required before we are
able to assess the importance of fish processing in the area.
Journal of Maritime Archaeology
1 3
Conclusions
The production and demand for fish products that is attested from the Classical period to
the end of the Roman era across the whole of theMediterranean and its adjoining seas was
just one episode in a long history of processing of marine organisms in these areas. The
volume of production and the economic and social implications of this industry seem to
have been profound in certain areas along these coasts at that time. Continuous research
and the accumulation of new, high quality data elucidate the phenomenon and permit elab-
oration on various aspects of it. In this framework, some reflection on our basic assump-
tions and hypotheses has been quite productive. The observed imbalance in the documen-
tation of fish salting in theeastern and western Mediterranean, which is so evident in the
archaeological record, and the explanation of it, seem to be an area where such an approach
might be fruitful.
The eastern Mediterranean appears to have been the birth place of the art of fish pres-
ervation several millennia ago. In prehistory, a range of simple and elaborate fish products
were made and consumed in several locations and in different cultural contexts, making use
of a wide range of locally available resources. This observation is particularly important,
not only in a quest for the historical origins of fish preservation but mostly in anattempt to
understand the motives behind the establishment of the large fish factories on the western
Mediterranean and the Black Sea coastsin the Classical period and lateron. Production of
processed fish in the eastern part of the Mediterranean did not cease despite the fact that
fish sauces and salted fish from the west (and the Black Sea) were regularly imported. The
scale of the local production, its geographical placement and the correlation between the
local fish processing plants and the abundance of certain resources are still quite obscure
issues and so far we are informed mostly from a limited body of written evidence.
Fish processing establishments and related features appear to be notably scarce along
the coasts of the eastern Mediterranean. This, however, is probably more the result of the
archaeological agendas and practices in the area and less a reflection of a real absence. The
examples discussed in this paper illustrate the potential for a future increase in the quantity
and quality of archaeological data concerning fish processing in the eastern Mediterranean.
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... In fact, since the fish spoils quite easily, some way of preservation was needed to allow its consumption at later stages and/or in distant markets. In general, ancient fish processing falls in two broad categories: dried, smoked, or salted fish (the latter: Greek τάριχοB or Latin salsamentum) and various kinds of fish sauces (Greek γάρον or άλμη, Latin garum or muria, respectively, but also liquamen and allec) [90][91][92]. Unfortunately, some of these techniques, for example drying, are difficult to detect, since they don't leave any physical evidence [93]. ...
... In the Eastern Mediterranean, the earliest indirect evidence for fish-processing dates back to the Mesolithic (XI millennium BCE) [92,93,96,97]. Some evidence for the Bronze Age also comes from the Aegean region. ...
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... Given the rarity with which BFT cranial elements are recovered in archeological contexts , vertebrae-a robust and well-preserved element-were chosen as an alternative. Size estimations have been seldom applied to BFT, namely, by Rose (1994), who developed a coarse method of estimating length from a single vertebra (also applied by Mylona, 2018, andRosell o-Izquierdo, 2007, who developed a precursor to the current study). ...
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