Early Neolithic fisheries in the Neolithic lake shore settlement Hornstaad-Hörnle on Lake Constance

Fishing was one of the most important sources of food for the early Neolithic inhabitants of Lake Constance in addition to animal husbandry and hunting. The excavations in the pile dwelling settlement provide indications for an intense fishing of pike and white fish. Other fish caught are for example perch, whitefish, and trout. 

Starting point

Fish were one of the most important sources of food for humans along the Lake Constance during the Neolithic period. Since most fish have fairly small bones that cannot be detected in the earth during a manual find recovery, often only the bones of very large fish, such as pike or catfish, are found. Random flotation of the sediments, as was done during this excavation, can prevent this from happening. Another limiting factor for the conservation of the small and fragile bones is the surrounding soil. In pile dwelling settlements where many water-saturated sediments are found these small bones are excellently preserved. 

The archaeological context

The early Neolithic fish remains were uncovered in the pile dwelling settlement of Hornstaad-Hörnle on the southwest shore of Lake Constance. The study of the fish bones took place in cooperation with E. Stephan (National Office for the Protection of Monuments, Konstanz). The settlement bears witness of one of the oldest Neolithic settlement phases on Lake Constance in southwestern Germany. A total of more than 10,200 fish bones with a combined weight of about 0.5 kg has been studied to date.

A large proportion of the fish bones are charred and very fragmented and it was not possible to identify them more precisely. Nevertheless, the distribution of the Neolithic period caught and consumed fish is quite diverse. The find assemblage is dominated by pike while other fish species only appear in lower concentration. The second most common group are the carp-like, however, the small bone remains often cannot be exactly identified; the common barbel, common rudd, and the bone of a tench were verified. In addition to the numerous perches only a single bone of a zander was discovered. Due to the uncertainties in the identification of the vertebrae based on the fragmentary and usually heavily charred conservation it was not possible to identify whitefish and trout; it is more likely that the complete bones are those of whitefish rather than trout. Finally, there was isolated evidence for the fishing of catfish.