The discovery of the world’s oldest storage of fermented fish in southern Sweden could rewrite the Nordic prehistory with findings indicating a far more complex society than previously thought.
The unique discovery by osteologist Adam Boethius from Lund University was made when excavating a 9,200 year-old settlement at what was once a lake in Blekinge, Sweden.
“Our findings of large-scale fish fermentation, a traditional way of preserving fish, indicate that not only was this area in Sweden settled at that time, it was also able to support a large community”, says Adam Boethius, whose findings are now being published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The discovery is also an indication that Nordic societies were far more developed 9,200 years ago than what was previously believed. The findings are important as it is usually argued that people in the north lived relatively mobile lives, while people in the Levant — a large area in the Middle East — became settled and began to farm and raise cattle much earlier.
“These findings indicate a different time line, with Nordic foragers settling much earlier and starting to take advantage of the lakes and sea to harvest and process fish. From a global perspective, the development in the Nordic region could correspond to that of the Middle East at the time,” says Adam Boethius.
“The discovery is quite unique as a find like this has never been made before. That is partly because fish bones are so fragile and disappear more easily than, for example, bones of land animals. In this case, the conditions were quite favourable, which helped preserve the remains”, says Adam Boethius.
The fermentation process is also complex in itself. Because people did not have access to salt or the ability to make ceramic containers, they acidified the fish using, for example, pine bark and seal fat, and then wrapped the entire content in seal and wild boar skins and buried it in a pit covered with muddy soil. This type of fermentation requires a cold climate.