Fish and Ships

Weblog of the research project "Between the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea: Interdisciplinary Studies of the Hanse"

Welcome to the weblog of the research project "Between the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea: Interdisciplinary Studies of the Hanse". The aim of the project is to investigate the economic and cultural connections of merchants from Northern German cities, such as Bremen and Hamburg with the North Atlantic islands of Iceland, Shetland and Faroe during the 15th to 17th centuries. The project is based at the German Maritime Museum (Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum) in Bremerhaven and funded by the Leibniz Association (2015-2018).The research is carried out by four team members, each with their individual research objectives and disciplinary background. With this blog we want to provide information about the current state of our research, and create a platform to make available results and new knowledge. Read more...

Newspaper article: Reger Handel mit dem hohen Norden

Bart Holterman, 7 September 2017

Bart Holterman presentated the project and his own research on August 5 in Haus der Wissenschaft in Bremen. Matthias Holthaus was there as well and wrote the following article about it in the Weser Kurier of August 21, which gives a nice overview of the situation German merchants had to deal with when trading in the North Atlantic in the late Middle Ages (in German).

https://www.weser-kurier.de/bremen/stadtteile/stadtteile-bremen-mitte_artikel,-reger-handel-mit-dem-hohen-norden-_arid,1638338.html

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Project presentation at the 18th Meeting of the ICAZ Fish Remains Working Group (FRWG) in Lisbon

Hans Christian Küchelmann, 8 January 2016

presentation FRWG titleOn the 30th of September I held a presentation at the 18th Meeting of the Fish Remains Working Group in Lisboa. The Fish Remains Working Group (FRWG) is a subject specific working group of the International Council for Archaeozoology (ICAZ), operating since 1980 with regular biennial research meetings and publications on archaeological fish remains. Its 18th meeting was entitled “Fishing through Time – Archaeoichthyology, Biodiversity, Ecology and Human Impact on Aquatic Environments” and was held in the Museu da Sociedade de Geografia de Lisboa from the 28th of September to the 3rd of October 2015. For further information on the programme of the conference see the book of abstracts.

11 Lisboa Horst

Horst examining the FRWG poster. Photo: Hans Christian Küchelmann

The theme of the conference fit perfectly to one of the research goals of our project, which I presented within the session “Multi-disciplinary Approaches to the Study of Fish Remains: Archaeology, written and illustrated Sources”. My presentation was entitled “Hanseatic trade in the North Atlantic: the archaeozoological evidence” and its main aim was to introduce our new research project to the archaeo-ichthyiological community, to inform about the historical background, to present an overview of the evidence accumulated so far, to show the potentials and limitations of the data, and to present preliminary results.

The conference was a fantastic opportunity to get in contact with colleagues working on related topics. For example Jennifer Harland or Rebeccca Nicholson, who are working on fish remains from medieval sites in Scotland and Orkney, James Barrett who analysed the fish bones from the wreck of the Mary Rose (AD 1545), Lembi Lougas who presented material from two hanseatic wrecks in Tallinn, and Jan Bakker, who prepared a poster on fish remains from the hanseatic city of Cologne. Most important was a meeting with James Barrett, head of the international project “The Medieval Origins of Commercial Sea Fishing”, based in Cambridge. We discussed  the possibilities for future cooperation between the two projects.

Apart from the scientific part, the organisers provided a fantastic field trip, which included a visit to the fish market of Setubal.

Setubal-Brosme

A tusk (Brosme brosme) at the fish market of Setubal. The tusk is one of the species prepared as stockfish in the North Atlantic and traded by Hanseatic merchants, although not in large quantities. Remains have been found for instance in medieval Duisburg. Photo: Hans Christian Küchelmann

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The 14th International Symposium on Boat and Ship Archaeology in Gdańsk/Poland 21.-25. September 2015

Mike Belasus, 25 November 2015

Group photo in front of the medieval crane in Gdańsk made by Paweł Jóźwiak from the National Maritime Museum

Group photo in front of the medieval crane in Gdańsk made by Paweł Jóźwiak from the National Maritime Museum in Gdansk.

From September 21st until September 25th, I participated in the 14th International Symposium for Boat and Ship Archaeology (ISBSA 14) in Gdańsk, Poland. My contribution was a talk with the title: “Those bits and pieces from the Baltic shores – Evidence for medieval shipping along the German Baltic Sea coast”. Even though this topic seems to be a bit farfetched considering the topic of our project “Between the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea”, it bears an important insight into the principles of technical change in medieval and early modern shipbuilding. Moreover when dealing with the North Atlantic trade we face the problem of a lack of archaeological source material. There are several reasons for this situation. The wrecks we know today from the southern North Sea coast are found in the rivers or on land within towns. Here they are often better protected than in the open sea. Some wrecks, foremost in the Netherlands, were found in the Wadden Sea but this is quite rare and requires a certain level of sediment coverage of the site to protect the wreck from wood-degrading microorganisms. Therefore it is not easy to find wooden wrecks in the North Sea. Moreover, the conditions for archaeological documentation are difficult due to weather, tides and swell in the rather unprotected sea. At the destinations of trade in the North Atlantic, ship archaeology is in a very early stage, especially in Iceland. As a consequence we depend on material evidence from for example the Baltic Sea to construct a model of development in shipbuilding that might have influenced the North Atlantic trade of the merchants from Hamburg and Bremen.
The presentation at ISBSA 14 focused on development processes in medieval shipbuilding, which was based on tradition handed over from one generation to the next without the use of written documents, drawings or formulas. An important aspect of the examination was the possibility of changes in shipbuilding by technical transfer between different building methods, in particular between native and introduced methods. Due to the fact that only a very limited number of medieval ship finds along the German Baltic coast are properly documented, this study was mainly based on re-used ship timbers and fragments found in town excavations. Still these bits and pieces give enough technical data for comparative analyses.
The result of this research confirms that shipbuilding methods did not just change without reason. Similarly, technical transfer did not just take place because of the presence of ships built with a different method in the same waters. In fact, technical transfer seems to have been the last choice for changes within traditional building techniques in the medieval period. Changes appear to be alterations within traditional knowledge. The main reasons for changes are economical and aim for greater shipping capacities and rationalisation or simplification of the building process.
What does this mean for the project? Towards the end of the medieval period, the building of ships with flush outer planking appeared in northern Europe. It often has been assumed that the knowledge to build ships in this fashion was simply copied from foreign ships. Instead, the archaeological evidence points towards a development or self-invention of flush-planked carvel-built vessels from within the building traditions of the clinker or Kollerup-Bremen Type building methods. Could these changes, that took place in the second half of the 15th century, have been decisive for the German merchants’ choice to sail the North Atlantic to trade?
The results will be published in the Symposiums proceedings.

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Study course “Networking Europe: Art and Cultural History of the Hanse”

Bart Holterman, 9 November 2015

In September 2015 I took part in the study course “Networking Europe: Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte der Hanse”, organised by the Warburghaus, University of Hamburg. The course, led by Profs. Barbara Welzel (University of Dortmund) and Iris Wenderholm (University of Hamburg), offered the ten participants, predominantly PhD students in art history, a platform to present their research and to discuss methodological questions.

Hans Kemmer, Portrait of the merchant Hans Sonnenschein (1934), St. Annen Museum, Lübeck

Hans Kemmer, Portrait of the merchant Hans Sonnenschein (1534), St. Annen Museum, Lübeck. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The course started with a visit to the opening of the exhibition “Lübeck 1500: Kunstmetropole im Ostseeraum” in the Museumquartier St. Annen in Lübeck. The exhibition highlighted the central role of Lübeck in the late Middle Ages as a centre for the production and trade of (religious) art. It presented an extraordinary and impressive overview of this period, with many loans from museums abroad.

The historical perspective was assumed with a subsequent visit to the newly opened European Hanse Museum (Europäisches Hansemuseum), through which we were guided by Prof. Rolf Hammel-Kiesow, the museum’s scientific leader. The museum provides a fascinating overview of the history of the Hanse in different environments (e.g., the mouth of the river Neva, where the Novgorod traders assembled, the market of Bruges, etc.) which submerge the visitor in the time of the Hanse, while supporting this with copies of archival documents and other sources.

Both museums gave an extraordinary overview of different historical aspects of the town Lübeck, but I missed the connection between the two a bit. In the Lübeck 1500-exhibition, only little was said about Lübeck as a hanseatic trade centre, the very reason for it´s being also a centre for the arts, while in my opinion the Hansemuseum focused too much on the written sources. Therefore, in the following days in Hamburg, we discussed intensively questions of interdisciplinary research, its flaws and advantages, and the role of (art historical) museums today. These discussions were very interesting, also in light of our current project, and were for me the main added value of my participation in this course.

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Lecture about current research in past cod fisheries in the North Atlantic

Natascha Mehler, 14 October 2015

On Wednesday, 4 November 2015, Dr. Guðbjörg Ásta Ólafsdóttir and Dr. Ragnar Edvardsson, University of Iceland, will speak about their new research project on the history of cod fishing in the North Atlantic. The lecture takes place at the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, starting 14:00, and is open to anyone interested. Here is a short summary about the content of the lecture.

Abstract_Ólafsdóttir

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