Cod bones found in Henry VIII's ship reveal global fish trade in Tudor England


Some of the cod bones recovered from the Mary Rose, with a stained modern example for comparison.
SHEILA HAMILTON-DYER

Cod stored in the the Tudor warship Mary Rose was caught as far away as Newfoundland in eastern Canada, a new study has found, suggesting the fish trade of the time was much more globalised than previously thought.

The discovery was made possible by advances in stable isotope and ancient DNA analysis.

The Mary Rose sank off the coast of southern England in 1545 when England had well developed local fisheries but they might not have been able to keep up with demand.

"The findings contribute to the idea that the demand for preserved fish was exceeding the supply that local English and Irish fisheries were able to provide in order to feed growing - and increasingly urban - populations. We know from these bones that one of the sources of demand was naval provisions," said Dr James Barrett, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.

Commercial exploitation of fish and the growth of naval sea power were "mutually reinforcing aspects of globalisation" in Renaissance Europe, Barrett says.

"The existence and development of globalised fisheries was one of the things that made the growth of the navy possible," he said.

"The navy was a key mechanism of maritime expansion, while at the same time being sustained by that expansion. The story of the cod trade is a microcosm of globalisation during this pivotal period that marked the beginning of an organised English navy, which would go on to become the Royal Navy."

The study, led by researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Hull and York, is published in the open access journal Royal Society Open Science.

The Mary Rose was built in 1510 and was the flagship of Henry VIII's fleet. It mysteriously heeled over and sank in the Solent channel during a battle with an invading French fleet in 1545.

It was raised in 1982, and the remains have provided a time capsule of life during Tudor times.

The researchers took a selection of 11 bones from fish stored in the various different holds of the ship, and analysed them using two techniques: stable isotope analysis, which reflects the diet and environmental conditions of the fish based on the bone's protein chemistry, and ancient DNA analysis, which reflects genetic drift, gene flow and natural selection.

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