"Whale hunting has been practiced by a variety of cultures worldwide for millennia, and played a key economic and sociological role. Today, whales are one of the most threatened groups of mammals, almost exclusively due to recent industrial hunting practices. Archaeological investigations into the history of whaling are vital for understanding the long-term exploitation of these important marine mammals, and also because they provide essential ecological baseline data on whale populations prior to industrial overhunting. Previous investigations both into the pre-history and contemporary impacts of whaling have been hampered by difficulties in accurately identifying fragmentary archaeological whale bones. Innovative new biomolecular approaches, however, can provide accurate information on the distribution, diversity and population sizes of whale populations through time. By pairing the ancient DNA and archaeological expertise of the applicant with the state-of-the-art facilities and specialists at BioArCh, York, this proposal seeks to a) develop and compare two rapid, low-cost, and highly-accessible cetacean identification techniques using proteins (ZooMS) and ancient DNA analysis; and b) apply these methods to explore whale exploitation patterns over the last 4000 years. Through the identification of over 1,000 geographically and chronologically documented archaeological whale remains, ORCA will: 1) investigate the taxonomic abundance and distribution of whale species through time and space; 2) explore how accurate species identification affects current hypotheses on the prehistory of whale hunting and exploitation in the NE Atlantic and NE Pacific, and; 3) document the distinct demographic histories of Atlantic and Pacific gray whale. ORCA will address both archaeological and conservation biology issues by revealing the long history of whale hunting, while providing invaluable baseline data immediately applicable to modern whale conservation and management."
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