Category Archives: fishing

The Katanda harpoons

Recently David Sánchez (of Noticias de Prehistoria – Prehistoria al Día[es]) asked me to collaborate in a series at his blog on the early prehistory and expansion of Homo sapiens, from the viewpoints of both archaeology and population genetics. I gladly accepted, of course. The first articles will be published in the next days/weeks at his blog (I plan to make synthesis of them in English here but not full translations – too much work). The bulk of the archaeological materials will be done by David, while I am taking responsibility mostly for the genetic aspects.
As he has been preparing the first article on the African Middle Stone Age, David stumbled upon a quite fascinating curiosity that was unknown to both and is probably of interest for the readers of this blog: the existence of well-finished proto-harpoons in the MSA of Katanda (North Kivu, D.R. Congo, near Uganda – not to be confused with another larger town named Katanda in the Kasaï-Oriental province) dated to some 110-80,000 years ago. 
I can only imagine that this quite unknown but fascinating materials should be of interest to the readers of this blog. 
Source: Dictionary of Ichtyology

The main direct reference for this unusual finding is:
J.E. Yellen et al., A middle stone age worked bone industry from Katanda, Upper Semliki Valley, Zaire. Science 1995. Pay per viewLINK [doi:10.1126/science.7725100]


Three archaeological sites at Katanda on the Upper Semliki River in the Western Rift Valley of Zaire have provided evidence for a well-developed bone industry in a Middle Stone Age context. Artifacts include both barbed and unbarbed points as well as a daggerlike object. Dating by both direct and indirect means indicate an age of approximately 90,000 years or older. Together with abundant fish (primarily catfish) remains, the bone technology indicates that a complex subsistence specialization had developed in Africa by this time. The level of behavioral competence required is consistent with that of upper Paleolithic Homo sapiens sapiens. These data support an African origin of behaviorally as well as biologically modern humans.

This discovery has been mentioned later on by more accessible materials, for example: D’Errico & Stringer 2011, D’Errico 2006 (in French) or a book by Luis Raposo (in Spanish). 
Regardless of the speculations about the so-called “modern human behavior”, what it clearly means is that those ancient Africans produced well-finished barbed proto-harpoons (not known of otherwise until Magdalenian times in Europe) and used them to fish in the Semliki river (being one of the earliest documented cases of this kind of economy).

Posted by on March 16, 2013 in Africa, fishing, Middle Paleolithic, MSA


Open sea fishing in Timor 42,000 years ago

Ancient Timorese fishing hooks
A serious attention call today for all those who doubt that boating (or even mariner) skills of Paleolithic peoples could even exist at all. Timorese people were fishing tuna, a pelagic fish, requiring certain serious mariner skills, some 42 thousand years ago, roughly when their distant relatives were making their first incursions into ‘the Neanderlands’ of West Eurasia. 
The ancient Timorese people who dwelt in Jerimalai shelter used elaborate fishing hooks, which are however dated to c. 23-16 Ka ago. These hooks were worked out of shells. With or without hooks, they fished a lot of tuna and parrotfish which are clearly dated to c. 42,000 years ago. These fish can’t be captured from the shore.

By 50,000 years ago, it is clear that modern humans were capable of long-distance sea travel as they colonized Australia. However, evidence for advanced maritime skills, and for fishing in particular, is rare before the terminal Pleistocene/early Holocene. Here we report remains of a variety of pelagic and other fish species dating to 42,000 years before the present from Jerimalai shelter in East Timor, as well as the earliest definite evidence for fishhook manufacture in the world. Capturing pelagic fish such as tuna requires high levels of planning and complex maritime technology. The evidence implies that the inhabitants were fishing in the deep sea.

Media/blog articles: New Scientist, Adelaide Now, Dienekes.


Posted by on November 25, 2011 in fishing, navigation, SE Asia, Upper Paleolithic


Epipaleolithic fish traps from Wales and Ireland

A couple of news items again mentioned by Archaeo News:
Archaeologist Andrew Petersen is exploring willow walls under the sea at Wales. The researcher, who recently uncovered a whole medieval town under coastal sands in Qatar, is now turning his attention to what he believes are fish traps created by Epipaleolithic ‘Welsh’ fisherpeople at its coasts. (Source: Wales Online)
Gibbons at a cochill trap
In a parallel development, another archaeologist, Michael Gibbons, is researching now fish-catching stone structures in Ireland, which apparently also date to the Epipaleolithic but, oddly enough, are still made and used by some modern coastal fishermen. They use these artificial coastal ponds to catch a fish called marine or mearachán, which seems to be a type of smelt. The traps are known as cochill and their design has been transmitted through generations till present day. (Source: Irish Times).