PREHISTORIC FISHERMEN CAUGHT THE BIG ONES

photo credit Associated Press/Australian National University/Sue O’Connor

published in the journal Science, reported by Discovery news

A remarkable recent archaeological find reveals that humans living 40,000 years ago mastered skills and tools needed to catch fast-moving, deep ocean fish, such as tuna, that even today are difficult to land.

Susan O’Connor, Assistant Professor at Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific, made the discovery in a small cave on the Island of East Timor, north of Australia.  The cave, known as Jerimalai, is located a few hundred yards from the shore of the Pacific Ocean.  It’s an inconspicuous small rock overhang hidden by foliage.

To date, O’Connor and her colleagues have excavated only two small test pits at the cave and found stone artifacts, bone points, animal remains and fishhooks.  In one pit, measuring about 1 yard square and 2 yards deep, the expedition found 39,000 fish bones, evidence of 2800+ fish.

The prize discovery was a small piece of fishing hook made from shell, dating between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago.

“When I discovered  (the cave) in 2005, I didn’t think that Jerimalai would tell us about the very early occupation of Timor,” O’Connor said.  “I was quite surprised when I found all these fish bones and turtle bones.  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.

“What the site has shown us is that early modern humans in island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills.”

She said tuna can be caught using nets or by trolling hooks on long lines through the water.

“Either way, it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore.”

 

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