A palaeothermometer of ancient Indigenous fisheries reveals increases in mean temperature of the catch over five millennia




Hillis, Dylan
Gustas, Robert
Pauly, Daniel
Cheung, William W. L.
Salomon, Anne K.
McKechnie, Iain

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Environmental Biology of Fishes


Climate change is altering the distribution and composition of marine fish populations globally, which presents substantial risks to the social and economic well-being of humanity. While deriving long-term climatic baselines is an essential step for detecting and attributing the magnitude of climate change and its impacts, these baselines tend to be limited to historical datasets and palaeoecological sediment records. Here, we develop a method for estimating the ‘ancient Mean Temperature of the Catch’ (aMTC) using Indigenous fisheries catch records from two archaeological sites in the northeast Pacific. Despite different catch compositions, we observe an increase in aMTC over a 5,000-year period at two contemporaneously occupied archaeological sites in southwestern British Columbia, Canada. We document cooler catches from 5,000 to 3,000 cal yr BP and comparatively warmer catches from 1,800 to 250 cal yr BP. These warmer temperatures are broadly consistent with palaeoceanographic sea surface temperature proxies from British Columbia and Alaska. Because this method requires converting measures of fish bones into estimates of fish size structure, abundance, biomass, and finally aMTC, opportunities exist to account for both variation and uncertainty at every step. Nevertheless, given that preindustrial fisheries data are ubiquitous in coastal archaeological sites, this method has the potential to be applied globally to broaden the temporal and geographic scale of ocean temperature baselines.



Archaeology, Climatic change, Indigenous fisheries, Marine historical ecology, Northeast Pacific, Salmon, Zooarchaeology


Hillis, Dylan, Robert Gustas, Daniel Pauly, William W. L. Cheung, Anne K. Salomon, and Iain McKechnie 2022 A Paleothermometer of Ancient Indigenous Fisheries Reveals Increases in Mean Temperature of the Catch Over Five Millennia. Environmental Biology of Fishes https://doi.org/10.1007/s10641-022-01243-7.