Humans Had Advanced Fishing Technology 12,000 Years Ago in Israel

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Ancient humans living between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago in what is now Northern Israel were using sophisticated hooks, lines, weights, and lures to catch fish, a new analysis published to PLoS ONE reveals.

An international team of researchers led by Dr. Antonella Pedergnana at the University of Zurich analyzed a variety of hooks and grooved pebbles found at the Jordan River Dureijat site on the Upper Jordan River in the Hula Valley of Israel. The hooks (pictured above), are made of bone, likely taken from butchered gazelle or fallow deer, and some even have rudimentary barbs to ensure that bait stays attached and to prevent fish from escaping. The small pebble weights are primarily composed of limestone and were grooved so the ancient fishers could affix their lines. The researchers suggest that the weights were likely used in tandem with floats, perhaps made from porcupine quills, to position the baited hook at a desired depth underwater.

Pedergnana et al. / PLoS ONE

The Jordan River Dureijat site never seems to have been inhabited, but was "a place that people visited again and again to take advantage of the confluence of diverse lake shore resources," the researchers speculated. There are no signs that the hooks or grooved pebbles were ever manufactured there. The likeliest explanation for their abundance at the site is that they were lost in the water when fish snapped the lines, or were casually tossed aside if broken.

Pedergnana et al. / PLoS ONE

The ancient fishers likely hailed from the Natufian culture, who lived a mostly stationary lifestyle even before the introduction of agriculture. The varying hook sizes they used suggests that they caught numerous species of fish, including carp and trout. Fishing lines were probably crafted from plant material. Residues observed on the hooks confirm the early use of artificial lures, perhaps fashioned from shells, which attract a fish's attention via colors, movements, and vibrations.

"The use of lures by prehistoric anglers reflects detailed knowledge of fish behavior and diet," the researchers say.

The earliest known evidence of fishing dates back roughly 40,000 years. Ancient inhabitants of the island Timor in South East Asia may have fished with spears and nets. Basic fishing hooks started appearing in the archaeological record about 20,000 years ago. What sets apart the artifacts at the Jordan River Dureijat site are their complexity.

"This sophisticated technology attests to deep knowledge of fish behavior, ecology and acquisition strategies and fits into a larger pattern of technological and resource diversification at the end of the Pleistocene in the Levant immediately preceding the Neolithic period," the researchers conclude.

Source: Pedergnana A, Cristiani E, Munro N, Valletta F, Sharon G (2021) Early line and hook fishing at the Epipaleolithic site of Jordan River Dureijat (Northern Israel). PLoS ONE 16(10): e0257710.

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