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article imageAncient fish hook shows early man skilled in deep-sea fishing

By Leigh Goessl     Nov 27, 2011 in Science
Researchers have discovered humans engaged in deep sea fishing much earlier than previously believed. Scientists have found evidence which shows people deep sea fished as far back as 42,000 years ago.
Australian scientists have uncovered numerous ocean fish remains and an ancient fish hook, made from shell, in the Jerimalai cave site in East Timor, located in southeast Asia.
The research team was led by Professor Sue O'Connor, from the Australian National University.
According to the Daily Mail, O'Connor said, "The site that we studied featured more than 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 individual fish dating back 42,000 years.
"What the site in East Timor has shown us is that early modern humans in Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills. They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today - fish like tuna. It's a very exciting find."
Professor O’Connor's team also uncovered the world’s oldest fish hook, which dates from a later period than the fish. Experts place the hook fragment to have been made approximately 16,000 to 23,000 years ago.
The 3 cm long fish hook was found embedded in the remains of tuna and other deep-water fish, reported the Australian publication The Daily Telegraph.
The Daily Telegraph reported, until now, the oldest samples of fish hooks were found in the Middle East and were dated to be about 9,000 years old.
About the fish hook, O'Connor said, according to information provided by Australian National University, “We found a fish hook, made from a shell, which dates to between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago. This is, we believe, the earliest known example of a fish hook and shows that our ancestors were skilled crafts people as well as fishers. The hooks don’t seem suitable for pelagic fishing, but it is possible that other types of hooks were being made at the same time.”
Currently researchers are unsure how ancient people caught the oldest of the fish, which were fast-moving, deep ocean fish. Theories include older hooks, or even nets, may have been used as a sophisticated means to engage in offshore fishing, as opposed to the fresh water, more primitive, wading method humans previously used.
ABC Science reported Jerimalai cave, which is hidden behind foliage not far from the coast, was found by O'Connor in 2005.
About the find, O'Connor said, "When I discovered it in 2005, I didn't think that Jerimalai would tell us about the very early occupation of Timor," adding, "I was quite surprised when I found all these fish bones and turtle bones."
The research team has, to date, excavated two small test pits at the cave.
"I think Jerimalai gives us a window into what maritime coastal occupation was like 40,000 to 50,000 years ago that we don't really have anywhere else in the world," said O'Connor.
Such evidence is often hard to locate because it has been submerged by water due to rising sea levels, making this find an exciting one. It shows that early man used more intricate methods to fish because of the types of fish found.
These findings were detailed in the Nov. 25 issue of Science.
More about ancient fish hooks, deep sea fishing, Excavation, Research, Archeology
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