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UMD-led Research Will Track Role of Atlantic Cod in History

By Sara Gavin

For a millennium, the Atlantic cod has played a vital role in feeding societies, developing markets and facilitating trade for coastal and inland communities throughout the Atlantic. Now, armed with a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers from the University of Maryland Department of Anthropology and collaborators from the University of Alaska, the University of Iceland the University of Akureyri will examine how this fish and other Atlantic species have evolved, as well as their changing relationship with humans and the environment.

Using a variety of techniques from disciplines including marine biology, archaeology and history, the research team will study bones from cod and other coastal and marine species excavated over the last 30 years from archaeological sites in Iceland and the Faroe Islands that were inhabited from the 9th to the 19th centuries. These bones will undergo biochemical analyses that will allow researchers to track population size, body length and feeding changes over the centuries.

“This humble fish was a major force in Atlantic and world history and continues to be a vitally important species for contemporary sustenance and trade,” said George Hambrecht, UMD professor of anthropology and a lead investigator on the NSF-funded project. “Combining these bone analyses with archaeological and historical methods will help us extend the existing record of cod populations by more than 1,000 years and will contribute to better and longer-term decisions in managing this key species and of the North Atlantic in general.”

Hambrecht and collaborators also plan to use the bone specimens to create an extensive record of biological, environmental and climatological change in near-shore marine regions off Iceland over the last 1,000 years. The specimens—some based at UMD, and others from the City University of New York, Universite Laval in Quebec, Canada, and the University of Bergen in Norway—will come from a variety of archaeological sites.

The research project will begin in January 2021 and continue through 2023. In addition to Hambrecht, principle investigators include Nicole Misarti, research associate professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and Arni Daniel Juliusson of the University of Iceland.

Read the original release on the BSOS website.

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