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Roman cetacean feast

By 24/01/2023finds, News
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A near complete caudal vertebrae of a small whale has been recovered from a potentially Roman deposit from one of our sites in North Kent. It is very similar in size and shape to cetacean vertebrae found at several sites in London, in particular from Late Saxon and medieval Bermondsey Abbey, which were identified as longfin pilot whale (Globicephala melas). This small whale (varying in length between 3.5 and 6.5m) is relatively common in British offshore waters today, although more frequently spotted off the south-western rather than south-eastern British coasts. Roman cetacean finds tend to be rather rare from sites in this general area, noting for example just 2 Roman examples out of over a 100 whale bones found in London. The presence of whale bones may suggest that these animals were hunted although it is well known, throughout history, that whale strandings have occurred along various parts of the British coastline. However, whether taken from a captured or stranded/beached specimen, it is of interest that this bone has been charred (both on the anterior and posterior surfaces, see picture), which may suggest it is part of a ‘joint’ cooked on an open fire.

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