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8-10-2015, 20:04

Ducks in the Prehistoric Period

The earliest work on bird bones from archaeological sites was carried out in the mid-nineteenth century at shell mounds in Jutland, Denmark (Steenstrup 1855). Little attention, however, was given to the identification of bird bones from archaeological sites in the Northern Hemisphere until the 1980s, and scant research has been undertaken on the taphonomy of bird bones (Ericson 1987; Livingston 1989). Another problem is that morphological differences between similar bones of different taxa of the Anatidae are not always distinct and clear-cut. Measurements of bones can help to separate them, but frequently no specific identification can be made, especially if the material is fragmentary. Nevertheless, attempts at distinguishing wild and domestic mallard bones have been made, although there are also zooarchaeological problems in such an undertaking. Anatomical differences that may be associated with domestication have been recognized in several late Saxon faunal collections in Britain, including that of Northampton (Coy 1981, 1989). The flattened facet on the anterior aspect of the caput femoris, employed by J. Lepiksaar (1969) for the identification of domestic geese, can also be used for ducks. J. Ekman (1973) applied this technique to remains in seventeenth - or eighteenth-century deposits in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The wild mallard is (and was) highly migratory, with flocks of several thousand birds not unusual (Gooders 1975). Ideally, wild birds are hunted in the late summer and early fall, just after they have grown plump on summer feeding, and prehistoric fowlers generally took the birds at this, their most defenseless period, or while they were molting or nesting in the spring (Clark 1948).

Some Danish Mesolithic wetland sites demonstrate human exploitation aimed almost solely at birds and, in certain cases, seasonal exploitation of just one or a few species. For example, the Mesolithic site of Agger-sund on the Limfjord was a specialized camp for the procurement of whooper swans (Grigson 1989).

There are two distinct types of Danish Mesolithic sites. One is the inland bog, associated with the Magle-mosian culture of the Boreal age, whereas the other is the coastal midden of the Ertebolle culture of the Atlantic age. The chief Maglemosian sites on Zealand (Mullerup, Svaerdborg, Holmegaard, and 0gaarde) have yielded bird bone assemblages in which the most abundantly represented birds are wild ducks and mute swans. Also represented are grebes, coots, and some sea birds, including cormorants, gulls, and divers of various species (Clark 1948). Marine birds are more strongly represented in the Ertebolle middens. Because of a lack of winter migrants, the Maglemosian sites were probably occupied only during the summer months, but fruitfully so, as evidenced by the presence of cranes and numerous mute swans, as well as young cormorants and sea eagles.

The mute swan and mallard are both resident taxa and remain very common in present-day Denmark (Grigson 1989). Mallards breed all over inland Denmark and molt during the summer in most wetland habitats, usually in small flocks, but occasionally several hundred individuals congregate on large lakes and in densely vegetated marshland.

In addition to the work done in Denmark, we know from efforts in Germany (at Friesack, Land-kreis Nauen) that the Mesolithic (9,700 to 7,000 years ago) bird bone assemblage is dominated by the mallard in all phases (Teichert 1993). In Neolithic eastern Europe (western Russia, the northeastern Baltic region, and northern Poland), numerous bird bones have been excavated from wetland settlements. It is thought that some of these may have been specialized waterfowling sites (Zvelebil 1987). Eighty-nine percent of the bone sample at Narva-Riigikula 3 is composed of waterfowl, mainly ducks. The site is situated on a sandy dune separating a lagoon from the open sea and is on the route of the annual migration of waterfowl between their breeding grounds in the Arctic and their winter quarters in southern Scandinavia and northwestern Europe. These wetland sites are of immense importance in preserving bone and plant remains as well as foodprocessing tool kits - in this case, wooden projectiles with blunted tips - thus making it possible to reconstruct the subsistence strategies of forest-zone hunter-gatherers in a much more comprehensive way than at dry sites.

As was the case in Poland, the wild duck was the chief quarry of the Iron Age inhabitants of Glastonbury Lake Village in Somerset, England. There, the birds were probably dispatched by clay pellets (also excavated from the site) that were well adapted for use with a sling (Andrews 1917).