Early Man: Fishing for Tuna in the Pleistocene

Bluefin-tuna-jj-001

42,000 years ago the original old man and the sea was harvesting deep-sea tuna in southeast Asia.
A new dig by Sue O'Connor at the Australian National University in Canberra and colleagues in deposits at the Jerimalai shelter in East Timor  revealed  38,000 fish bones from 23 different taxa, including tuna and parrotfish that are found only in deep water. Radiocarbon dating revealed the earliest bones were 42,000 years old.


Amidst the fishy debris was a broken fish hook fashioned from shell, which the team dated to between 16,000 and 23,000 years. "This is the earliest known example of a fish hook," says O'Connor. Another hook, made around 11,000 years ago, was also found.

East Timor hosts few large land animals, so early occupants would have needed highly developed fishing skills to survive. "Necessity is the mother of invention," says O'Connor. "Apart from bats and rats, there's nothing to eat here."

But that doesn't necessarily mean that fishing began in the region. At the time, sea-levels were around 60 to 70 metres lower than today. Any sites of former human occupation that were located on the Pleistocene shore – rather than in coastal cliffs like the Jerimalai shelter – are now submerged.

Broader patterns of human migration suggest that more evidence of fishing would be found through examining those submerged sites. After leaving Africa around 70,000 years ago, it took modern humans only 20,000 years to skirt around Asia and reach Australia. The journey over land into Europe, although much shorter, took 30,000 years.

The Daily Galaxy via Journal Reference: Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1207703 and newscientist.com

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