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Fish, feather, fur and forest: Exploitation of wild animals in medieval Novgorod and its territory
- Hamilton-Dyer, Sheila, Brisbane, Mark, Maltby, Mark
- Quaternary international 2017 v.460 pp. 97-107
- Cyprinidae, Salmonidae, Sander lucioperca, Tetrao urogallus, Ursidae, birds of prey, bones, claws, diet, ducks, elks, fauna, flora, forests, foxes, fur, furs and pelts, game birds, hares, hinterland, international trade, lakes, landscapes, models, pike, pollen, rivers, squirrels, sturgeon, waterfowl, watersheds, wild birds, wildlife, woodlands, Russia
- The city of Novgorod the Great in north-west Russia has been subjected to extensive excavation of its superbly preserved medieval anaerobic deposits for many decades. Situated on the River Volkhov near Lake Ilmen and surrounded by mixed boreal and deciduous woodland and seasonally flooded meadowlands, Novgorod was well-placed for the exploitation of local wild fauna and flora. It was also the focus for international trade in furs obtained from a much broader catchment area. Although its inhabitants relied heavily on domestic animals and crops for their food, evidence for the acquisition of wild resources is also provided by animal bones, plant macrofossils, birch-bark documents and other archaeological finds. Pollen analysis has also provided information about landscape history of its hinterland. Even from a limited programme of sieved sampling, it is clear that a very large number of fish bones were present in the deposits. The main taxa are cyprinids, pike and zander, whereas birch-bark documents, largely concerned with tribute, mention salmonids and sturgeon, rare amongst the excavated remains. The wild bird assemblage is dominated by various species of ducks. Other waterfowl were utilised as well as large game birds such as capercaillie. Birds of prey are also present and other remains such as jackdaws reveal the local bird life in town. Wild mammals contributed little to the Novgorodian diet: bones of hare, beaver and elk being the most frequently found. Very few bones of fur-bearing mammals were recovered. The few remains include bear claws and bones of squirrel, marten, otter, and fox, in addition to beaver. Their paucity can be explained by the fact that most would have arrived from the hunting grounds to the north as prepared pelts without bones. Evidence for the hunting for these species is provided on sites deep within the forest zone such as Minino. Most of the wild animals eaten in Novgorod itself were obtained from the land and waters of its near hinterland. The paper discusses the character of the local forest based on pollen and other evidence. Models are being developed to provide a more detailed understanding of the changes in the composition of the forest during the medieval period and the consequences this had for wildlife. The paper demonstrates the benefits of developing a multi-disciplinary approach comparing urban assemblages with contemporary sites in its hinterland and further afield, to understand more fully how wild species were exploited in complex societies.