The migration of silver eels from the river systems of Europe to the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean is a predictable, annual event. This was well understood by the fishermen working along the Trent in the medieval period. Excavations of the river’s palaeochannels at Castle Donington in Leicestershire revealed a remarkably well-preserved array of structures and tools used for one purpose: to catch eels. The earliest evidence dates to the mid/late Saxon period and comprises the remains of weirs that funnelled the eels into traps. There is evidence for wattle hurdles and an eel basket dating to the 9th/10th century, and, by the 12th century, a more substantial weir of timber and stone, a converted mill dam, was in use.
Apart from the extraordinary finds, the book makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the inland fishing industry, and its place in the medieval economy. Given that fish bones are so rarely recovered (ironically, there was none even from this site, a result of the acidic sediments), this is especially important.
This review appeared in CA 335.