THE crisis caused by the over-exploitation of Europe's fish stocks dates back as far as a millennium, according to new archaeological evidence found by York academics.

A study published today, which was led by University of York archaeologists, has discovered that there was a dramatic rise in sea fishing around 1000AD - far earlier than first thought.

Using fish bone records from 127 archaeological digs across England as a source for vital clues about people's diets, researchers charted changes in importance of fish as a food source between 600AD and 1600AD.

Dr James Barrett, who wrote the study with co-authors Alison Locker and Callum Roberts, said they found a dramatic shift from freshwater to marine species, such as pike, trout, salmon and eel.

"Our findings show that human impacts on the sea could be far more ancient than is usually assumed. The century between AD950 and 1050 can now be pinpointed as the ultimate origin of today's fishing crisis and a critical period for future research on marine ecosystems," he said.

The Origins of Intensive Marine Fishing in Medieval Europe: the English Evidence, is published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Updated: 11:17 Wednesday, November 24, 2004