Catching the Past: Investigating the Legacy of Atlantic cod exploitation using ancient DNA

This project investigates historic bone samples of Atlantic cod in order to answer evolutionary and archaeological questions using ancient DNA.

Picture of an ancient cod bone

Ancient cod bone (approximately 800 year old) from the Orkney Islands, United Kingdom. Fish bone can contain excellent levels of endogenous DNA.

About the project

Humans have exploited the naturally abundant resources of marine ecosystems since prehistoric times. One of these resources, Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), is of profound economic and cultural value for communities around the North Atlantic Ocean. The history of exploitation for this species dates back millennia, which makes it difficult to quantify the extent of human impact. While contemporary influence of industrial fishing is associated with population collapse and phenotypic changes that lead to economic loss, it is unclear if past episodes of intensive fishing have wrought analogous demographic and evolutionary changes. Therefore, the true anthropogenic impacts on the ecology of exploited fish populations remain unclear.

Here, we obtain genome-wide data from archaeological bones up to 9000 years old and ask if an intensive exploitation history covering millennia has inflicted demographic and selective changes on Atlantic cod. We reconstruct long-term patterns of cod diversity from those periods predating extensive human influence and simultaneously identify the source populations of Viking Age and medieval fish trade. Our spatiotemporal approach allows us to assess associations between expanding fisheries, population decline and anthropogenic selection, as well as answer specific archaeological questions.



This project funded by the Research Council of Norway as a Young Research Talent Grant to Bastiaan Star


Dr. James Barrett

Dr. Sanne Boessenkool

Dr. Ludovic Orlando

Dr. Anne-Karin Hufthammer

Dr. Carl Andre

Dr. Sissel Jentoft

Dr. Nils Chr. Stenseth



Start: Sept 2017 End: Dec 2021


Published Mar. 1, 2018 10:07 AM - Last modified Dec. 3, 2020 12:31 PM


Dr. Bastiaan Star



Detailed list of participants