Journal of Applied Ichthyology vol:32 pages:609-628
Archaeological bone remains of sturgeon (Acipenser sturio/Acipenser oxyrinchus) from northwestern Europe are often identified to species on the basis of their surface morphology and then used to reconstruct the spatial distribution of the two species through time. The dermal bones of A. sturio are said to have an exterior surface pattern consisting of tubercles, while those of A. oxyrinchus are said to display alveoli. In the present paper, the validity of the surface pattern as a species-specific characteristic is critically assessed. To this purpose, dermal plates from modern, genetically identified museum specimens were studied and the surface morphology observed in a series of archaeological remains was compared with the genetic identifications obtained on these same remains. The analyses show that the surface pattern of dermal bones is related to the size of the individual, with the pattern of small A. oxyrinchus being similar to that of A. sturio. In addition, variations in the surface pattern among the bones of a single individual and within the same bone have been observed. These findings explain previous conflicting results between morphological and genetic identifications and allow the formulation of some recommendations for more accurate morphological identification of isolated archaeological sturgeon dermal bones.