Youri van den Hurk

Social Implications of Cetacean Exploitation in Medieval North-Western Europe

The field of zooarchaeology, by definition, aims to reconstruct the relationship between animals and humans in the past; however, research has primarily been focused on the interaction between humans and terrestrial domesticated mammals, frequently ignoring all other animal groups. The group of mammals that is most seriously understudied are cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), due to poor preservation in the archaeological record and lack of zooarchaeological expertise, resulting in a poor understanding of early human-cetacean interaction and the origin of whaling practices. Medieval sources however, often mention human-cetacean interaction where they are often mentioned as “Royal Fish” – often being claimed by the crown when one was caught or stranded along the shore. My PhD aims to combine both zooarchaeological and historical sources to reconstruct the dynamics of human-cetacean relations, the changing tempos of consumption, regional shifts in exploitation, and the symbolic importance of cetaceans in medieval north-western Europe.

Funding organisation


 Educational background

  • BA, Archaeology, University of Groningen, the Netherlands, 2013
  • MSc (by research), Archaeological Science, University of Nottingham, UK, 2014

- Speller, C., van den Hurk, Y., Charpentier, A., Rodrigues, A., Gardeisen, A., Wilkens, B., McGrath, K., Rowsell, K., Spindler, L., Collins, M. and Hofreiter, M., forthcoming. Barcoding the largest animals on earth: on-going challenges and molecular solutions in the taxonomic identification of ancient cetaceans. Philosophical Transactions B.

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