Rare Leftovers of ‘Vampire’ Fish, Favored by Medieval Foodies, Found in London
The lamprey was very appreciated by the medieval gourmets.
The researchers have found the sharp teeth of a vampire-like lamprey ( Lampetra fluviatilis ) river deep in central London.
These fish without jaws and parasites use their disc-shaped suction mouths and circular rows of teeth to clamp and gnaw at the host fish.
But, despite its dreadful appearance, lampreys are now considered a delicacy in some countries, thanks to its rich flavour and fleshy texture.
But the fish of strange appearance was especially appreciated among the gourmets of centuries ago, in medieval England.
In fact, Henry I died in 1135 at 68 years of age after he reportedly ate “an excess of lampreys” against the orders of his physician, according to his chronicler.
Even recently, they have been popular with royalty: in 1953 a lamprey cake was made for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Although lampreys are often found in the historical record, fish have left little trace in the archaeological record.
This may be because the skeletons inside the eel-shaped bodies of lampreys are made of cartilage and their teeth are made of keratin (the same as hair and nails) – two materials that are not likely to be retained after of centuries buried underground. (Lamprey remains have only been found in two other archaeological sites in the United Kingdom).
So it was particularly exciting when Alan Pipe, a leading archaeologist at the London Museum of Archeology (MOLA), found a few rows of what appeared to be lamprey teeth as he reviewed the findings of flooded water well discovered during excavations near the Mansion House station in London.
Pipe and his team deduced that the lamprey had probably eaten sometime between 1270 and 1400 when the well was in
“Almost everything we know about the popularity of lampreys in medieval England comes from historical accounts, ” Pipe said in a MOLA statement.
“It is incredibly exciting, after 33 years of studying animal remains, to finally identify the vestiges of the elusive lamprey in the heart of the historic city of London, preserved in the flooded soil near the River Thames.”
The lamprey lineage has existed for 360 million years. River lampreys are just one of the three species that used to be common in the United Kingdom (the other two are stream and sea lampreys). They are all protected species.
MOLA officials said that the excavations near Mansion House are already completed and that the teeth and other findings are still being analyzed.