Oxbow Books, £38
Review Rebecca Nicholson
This book provides an eminently readable overview of freshwater fishing, redressing the focus on sea fishing that has dominated archaeological narratives in recent years. The author is a leading fish-bone specialist, so there is mention of archaeological data, including isotopic analyses of human bones as proxies for diet. This is carefully worked into the story of the rise and fall of freshwater fish as food and status symbol, drawing on accounts of dining and water management, and covering the evolution of fishing tackle.
Starting with faunal evidence from Boxgrove 500,000 years ago, the relatively sparse later prehistoric evidence from England suggests that fish were at best an occasional foodstuff, and perhaps even proscribed in the Iron Age. The Romans had more exotic tastes but, as has continued to be the case, favoured sea fish over freshwater. Fishing in waterways and fishponds was increasingly controlled by religious and secular elites though the Middle Ages, and a section on coarse angling provides some fascinating glimpses into the history and development of this popular sport.