Place, memory and identity among estuarine fishing communities: interpreting the archaeology of early medieval fish weirs

Place, memory and identity among estuarine fishing communities: interpreting the archaeology of early medieval fish weirs

Aidan O’Sullivan

World Archaeology, Vol. 35(3): 449–468 (2003)


Recent coastal archaeological surveys in Britain and Ireland have produced an array of evidence for the construction and use of wooden and stone fish weirs throughout the Middle Ages. These fish weirs, with their wooden fences, basket traps and other features, vary in location, size, date and complexity. Regional and local traditions are discussed and it is suggested that fish weirs provide interesting insights into the labour and practices of medieval fishing communities, particularly in terms of cultural continuity and social identity. 

Recent years have seen an explosion of interest in the archaeology of ancient coastal fish weirs around the world. They have been the subject of investigations in Canada (e.g. Moss and Erlandson 1998), the north-west coast of North America (e.g. Bryam 1998; Betts 1998; Tveskov and Erlandson 2003), Australia (e.g. Dortch 1997) and New Zealand (Barr 1998). In Europe, Mesolithic and Neolithic fish traps have been recorded in The Nether- lands (Louwe Kooijmans 1987) and Denmark (Pedersen 1995; 1997). Recent coastal archaeological surveys around Britain and Ireland (Fig. 1) have also led to the survey, excavation and detailed analysis of fish weirs, ranging in date from prehistory to the post-medieval period (Fulford et al. 1997: 143–5). The earliest known are some Neolithic and Bronze Age wooden structures potentially associated with fishing activities at Wooton-Quarr, on the Isle of Wight (Loader et al. 1997) and on the Welsh shore of the Severn estuary (Bell et al. 2000: 307, 310).

Click here to read this article from World Archaeology  

medievalverse magazine