Ancient Romans May Have Had Thriving Whaling Industry

The discovery is reshaping historians' views of the Mediterranean Sea's past
By Josh Gardner,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 11, 2018 6:30 PM CDT
Ancient Romans May Have Had Thriving Whaling Industry
A North Atlantic right whale appears at the surface of Cape Cod bay off the coast of Plymouth, Mass.   (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

Newly uncovered evidence suggests ancient Romans may have had a thriving whaling industry. Per the Guardian, archaeological excavations at three Roman-era fish processing sites near the Strait of Gibraltar, which connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea, found the ancient bones of two whale species not known to frequent the area in the present day. In the journal Proceedings for the Royal Society B, researchers wrote that the bones are evidence that grey whales and North Atlantic right whales once used the region as calving grounds. The presence of the bones at the sites also tells scientists that they may have been hunted by the ancient Romans.

The discovery not only sheds new light on the ancient Mediterranean ecosystem, it has also sparked renewed discussion about certain writings of ancient Roman naturalist and scholar Pliny the Elder. Per LiveScience, Pliny's 2,000-year-old writings about whales in the Gibraltar region being hunted by orcas never quite squared with contemporary understanding of the habits of either species. This recent discovery might just prove Pliny was right after all. Without whales to hunt in the area, the research notes that the orcas of the region now seem to prey on tuna. (Orcas in the Pacific Northwest have not had that same luxury of late.)

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