The Archaeology of Herring – Nash Harbor Update

Gadid (cod) vertebrae from Nash Harbor, previously identified as herring (Souders 1997). Photo by Rory Walsh

Tiny vertebrae from Nash Harbor bulk sample as they appear to the naked eye. Photo by M. Moss

These Nash Harbor vertebrae have been sitting in a box at the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum in Bethel for 15 years or so.  I am deeply indebted to Steve Street for re-locating them and sending them to me. I am also grateful to NIMA (Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska) Corporation, who have been the owners of the Nash Harbor archaeological sites since 2007.  142 vertebrae were identified as herring from this sample.  When I first examined them on Feb. 8, 2013, they didn’t look like herring, but appeared to be small cod (gadid).  But there was so much sediment on the vertebrae, they were hard to see.  I received permission to gently wash the vertebrae which I did.  Then, I examined each and every one under magnification.  They are NOT herring, not even a single one of them! They are a small gadid, perhaps tom cod.  I think I have identified what may be a chronic problem in the north… when small fish vertebrae are found they may often be assumed to be herring without adequate examination.  Years ago, when I first started working with fish bones, I never used a microscope… but today, we know we have to use magnification to identify small taxa. So this is a cautionary tale: if herring are reported as present, and no other small fish taxon has been identified, then you might want to re-visit the identification.


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