January 10, 2012
Looks like fishing is an even older tradition than we thought.
Archeologists recently discovered a stash of prehistoric fishhooks in a limestone cave in the southeast Asian country of East Timor, according to reports.
Australian archeologist Sue O'Connor and her colleagues discovered the hooks, which are made from shells, and dated the hooks as far back as 42,000 years.
Before the discovery, the oldest fishhook was believed to be 5,500 years old.
In addition, the early anglers clearly had some success, as the team discovered more than 38,000 fish bones at the site, including some offshore species such as tuna. There was even evidence of humans eating sharks and rays at the site.
"That these types of fish were being routinely caught 40,000 years ago is extraordinary," O'Connor said. "It requires complex technology and shows that early modern humans in island South East Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills."
Researchers speculate that the anglers may have used fiber lines cast from rafts, though the hooks discovered by O'Connor and her team didn't seem suitable for offshore fishing -- however other hooks could have been made, she said.
Humans are believed to have arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago, but O'Connor's find proves humans had the know-how to craft fishing tools and methods much earlier than previously believed. The tradition likely played a key role in human survival as the anglers crossed the Indian Ocean to Australia.
While older fish bones dating 140,000-50,000 years ago have been discovered in Africa, they belonged to inland species and were likely caught using more primitive methods, researchers said.