What's the Catch? Archaeological application of rapid collagen-based species identification for Pacific Salmon

K Korzow-Richter, K McGrath, Edouard Masson-MacLean, S Hickinbotham, A Tedder, Kate Britton, Z Bottomley, Keith Dobney, A Hulme-Beaman, M Zona, R Fischer, MJ Collins, C Speller* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) are ecological and cultural keystone species along the Northwest Coast of North America and are ubiquitous in archaeological sites of the region. The inability to morphologically identify salmonid post-cranial remains to species, however, can limit our understanding of the ecological and cultural role different taxa played in the seasonal subsistence practices of Indigenous groups in the past. Here, we present a rapid, cost-effective ZooMS method to distinguish salmonid species based on collagen peptide mass-fingerprinting. Using modern reference material and an assemblage of 28 DNA-identified salmonid bones from the pre-contact Yup'ik site of Nunalleq, Western Alaska, we apply high-resolution mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to identify a series of potential collagen peptide markers to distinguish Pacific salmon. We then confirm these peptide markers with a blind ZooMS analysis (MALDI-TOF-MS) of the archaeological remains. We successfully distinguish five species of anadmmous salmon with this ZooMS approach, including one specimen that could not be identified through ancient DNA analysis. Our biomolecular identification of chum (43%), sockeye (21%), chinook (18%), coho (11%) and pink (7%), confirm the exploitation of all five available species of salmonid at Nunalleq.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105116
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Early online date4 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Bibliographical note

This research would not be possible without Qanirtuuq Incorporated (especially Warren Jones and Michael Smith), Quinhagak, Alaska, and the people of Quinhagak who provided logistical and planning support during fieldwork and sampling permissions. Special thanks to all Nunalleq project team members, in Aberdeen and at other institutions, as well as volunteers, for their involvement in the excavations and their meticulous recovery of the faunal remains at the site. We are grateful to Dr Arturo Morales-Muñiz (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), Dr Laura Llorente Rodriguez (Leiden University), Dr David Orton (University of York) and researchers at several conferences of the Fisheries Society of the British Isles for their insightful and productive conversations about salmon and to the two reviewers who commented on the manuscript. Thanks also to Dr. Laura Llorente Rodríguez for securing access to modern reference materials, and to Dr Madonna Moss (University of Oregon) for assistance in preparing the Kanektok River salmon and trout specimens for the University of Aberdeen reference collection. Thanks to Curtis J. Logan for assistance with some of the figures. This research was supported by funding through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/K006029/1) grant awarded to KB, Rick Knecht, and Charlotta Hillerdal (University of Aberdeen), including a PhD studentship (award 1369972) to EMM, and a further AHRC-LabEx award (AH/N504543/1) to KB, KD, Rick Knecht (Aberdeen), and Isabelle Sidéra (Nanterre); by the Association for Environmental Archaeology Small Research Grants (EMM); British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) Research Project Grant; the Royal Society Newton Fellowships (KKR); European Research Council Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions MAFRI (660337 to KKR); and the Leverhulme Trust (Philip Leverhulme Prize to CFS; Leverhulme ECR fellowship to AHB (ECF-2017-315)).


  • ZooMS
  • collagen peptide mass fingerprinting
  • Pacific salmon
  • Yup'Ik
  • Nunalleq
  • Collagen peptide mass fingerprinting
  • Pacific Salmon


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