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The Oldest Archeological Evidence For Deep Sea Fishing

What proof is there of the oldest deep sea fishing?

Seafood has been an important part of humanity’s diet for a long time, with archeological evidence dating back at least 165,000 years ago.

These sites generally includes things like shell middens, evidence for fish processing in the form of remains, cave paintings, and the occasional fishing spear point or net weight.

Direct isotopic analyses of an individual, the 40,000 year old Tianyuan man, has indicated that he regularly ate freshwater fish during his lifetime.

Until recently, however, most of the evidence has suggested that humans exploited freshwater or shallow marine habitats exclusively, and had relatively little interaction with pelagic species from way out in the open ocean. This makes intuitive sense. After all, fishing from a pond, or on a river bank, off a beach, or on a tidal flat, is a fairly straightforward proposition. Fishing the open oceans, however, requires considerable planning and preparation and very different techniques.

For those reasons, it was thought that human exploitation of the open ocean for food must have been a much more recent development.

However, in 2011, archaeologists found evidence for deep sea fishing as old as 42,000 years ago in East Timor, Southeast Asia.

Photo via Nature.com
Photo via Nature.com

There, O’Connor and others found the remains of open ocean fish collected and processed by humans. The fish remains included concentrations of tuna and shark, both fast-swimming, pelagic fish.

How these fish were caught remains unknown, although nets and hooks are both possibilities.

In younger strata at the same site, the archaeologists also found the oldest evidence for fish hook production. Shaped from the shells of bivalves, one hook was dated to 11,000 years ago, while another is possibly as old as 16,000 years ago.

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These are the earliest examples of fish hooks from human history; the next oldest examples of fish hook manufacturing come from the dawn of agriculture, approximately 5,500 years ago.

It’s not too surprising that early humans were catching and eating deep sea fish, since migration patterns of humans suggests that some had mastered sea-faring by at least 50,000 years ago. However, this site in East Timor is the first evidence that, for a group of humans sometime in the prehistoric past, fish from the open sea made up an important part of their diet. Additionally, the site has more than doubled the age for fish-hook manufacturing in our past, which is pretty amazing, really. It gives you a brief glimpse into the remarkable ingenuity and skills mastered by our ancestors so long ago.

How far back do you think deep seas fishing could date?

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The Oldest Archeological Evidence For Deep Sea Fishing