World's oldest fish hooks discovered

Past studies have shown that early humans were capable of crossing the open ocean as far back as 50,000 years ago, such as they did to colonise Australia. However, until now evidence that such mariners could fish while in the open sea dated back only to 12,000 years ago.

Now, a team of archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric fishing gear and the remains of large fish such as tuna at a cave shelter known as Jerimalai, located in the Southeast Asian island nation of East Timor.

The discovered fishing hooks are made from bone that date back to some 42,000 years ago, making them the earliest definitive evidence of such tools in the world, Sue O'Connor, an archaeologist at Australian National University and leader of the research, said.

"It is possible that people caught the tuna in the deep channel that lies off the coast of the Jerimalai shelter," she was quoted as saying by LiveScience.

According to the researchers, the site, first uncovered in 2005, also included bone points, shell beads, the remains of fish, turtles, pythons, rodents, bats and birds, and nearly 10,000 stone artifacts.

The island of Timor has very few terrestrial animals overall and only small birds call the island home, perhaps explaining why the ancient people here pursued fishing, O'Connor suggested.

About half the fish remains at the site came from pelagic fish such as tuna, ones that dwell near the ocean's surface or deeper in the water.

Capturing such fast-moving fish needs a lot of planning and complex maritime technology, suggesting that early humans developed these skills earlier than previously thought, said the researchers who detailed their findings in the journal Science.

"There is a lot of debate about whether or not early modern humans had the ability to hunt animals and fish that were difficult to capture," said O'Connor.

"I think the Timor evidence demonstrates that people definitely had this ability very early."

Some other scientists might say that most of the fish bones seen are from juvenile fish, and thus might have been caught more easily off the coast as opposed to in open waters.

"While this may be the case, it is still not easy matter to catch tuna — it would require nets set in deep water," O'Connor said.

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