The harp seal (Phoca groenlandica Erxleben) in Denmark, southern Scandinavia, during the Holocene

Ole Bennike, Peter Rasmussen, Kim Aaris-Sørensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The harp seal (Phoca groenlandica) is a low-arctic species that is currently a rare visitor to Danish waters. However, bone remains from archaeological and geological deposits in Denmark and the Baltic Sea testify to a regular presence of harp seals in this region during the mid-Holocene. The paradox of the presence of a low-arctic seal specific in southern Scandinavia during the mid-Holocene thermal maximum has been widely discussed. In order to improve the Holocene chronology for the presence of harp seal in Denmark, 24 bone remains of the species were radiocarbon dated. The oldest date is around 4100 cal. yr BC, indicating that the harp seal arrived several millennia after fully marine conditions were established in Danish waters. The majority of the dated specimens fall within two age groups, one centred around 3900 cal. yr BC (11 dates), the other around 2700 cal. yr BC (7 dates). It is argued that these two groups may reflect periods with suitable living conditions for the harp seal in Danish waters and that this is connected with an enhanced inflow of high-salinity North Sea water and higher biological productivity. Six dates show a scattered distribution between c. 1400 cal. yr BC and c. AD 1000, suggesting sporadic visits of the harp seal to Danish waters during the late Holocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-272
Number of pages10
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 5: Nature and Climate


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