The sea has been plentiful dating back to prehistoric times, providing Greeks with tasty offerings such as sargos, groupers and scorpionfish, which to this day remain favorites. Shells were used to make jewelry and researchers are now amazed to discover that seafood processing paved the way for the invention of fish paste!
Dimitra Mylona of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) in eastern Crete presented a lecture at the Panhellenic Conference of Ichthyologists on Oct 10 in Thessaloniki, Greece. The conference was organized by the Panhellenic Society of Ichthyologists, with new and valuable information presented on fishing and fishery products in the prehistoric Aegean.
In her historic overview, Mylona highlighted the exploitation of marine resources dating back to the 11th millennium, the beginning of geological era called the Holocene, and the archaeological period referred to as the Mesolithic. This was a time of rapid environmental change as a result of warming of the climate and rising sea levels.
It was previously believed that the coasts of the Aegean were sparsely populated by communities of hunter gatherers and fishermen. However, new discoveries on the mainland and the islands are beginning to change this picture. Three archaeological sites, two caves (Franchthi in the Argolis and Cyclops on the uninhabited islet of Youra) and one open-air settlement (Maroulas on Kithnos island), have provided important new information regarding fishing activities. During the excavations at Franchthi, tens of thousands of fish bones and scales were found along with shells and the bones of marine mammals and seabirds. The fish were mainly mid-sized coastal varieties such as sargos, groupers, scorpionfish, John Dory and sea bream. The excavations at Cyclops Cave produced fishing technology in use at the time, including two types of hook made from bone and antler. The open-air settlement of Maroulas has also produced fish remains, along with obsidian collected from the island of Melos.
Seafood processing dates back to around 1,800 BC with evidence from Akrotiri in Santorini, where volcanic ash from the eruption that occurred around 1,650 BC preserved the ruins of the city. The excellent conditions for preservation at Akrotiri have resulted in many new archaeological discoveries, and in particular organic residues which under normal conditions would have been lost.
According to Mylonas, during the excavations at the settlement, “a unique discovery of a little pot containing fish paste was made”. It contained a mixture of skate, whitebait and bogue, along with cereal grains and possibly other ingredients which may come to light during further chemical analysis.