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18 January 2012
Humans were skilled fishermen 42,000 years ago

Fish hooks and fish bones dating back 42,000 years found in a cave in East Timor suggest that humans were capable of skilled, deep-sea fishing 30,000 years earlier than previously thought. Nearly 39,000 fishbones and three fish hooks were found in a 1 square metre test dig in a limestone cave in Jerimalai, 300 metres from the coast and 50 metres above sea level.
     "All the bones we got inside were just the result of human meals, 40,000 years ago," said Sue O'Connor from the Australian National University's department of archaeology and natural history, and the study's lead author.
     The fish hooks were apparently made from the shells of the Trochus, a large sea snail. "They are very strong shell ... we think they just put bait on and dropped the hook in the water from a boat (at the) edge of a reef." The fish bones were traced to 23 species of fish, including tuna, unicorn fish, parrotfish, trevallies, triggerfish, snappers, emperors and groupers.
     "Parrotfish and unicorn were probably caught on baited hooks ... but tuna are deepwater, fast-moving fish. Tuna and trevallies were probably caught by lure fishing," O'Connor said. "There was never any hint of (what) maritime technology people might have had in terms of fishing gear 40,000 years ago," said O'Connor. "(This study showed) you got ability to make hooks, you are using lines on those hooks. If you can make fibre lines, you can make nets, you are probably using those fibres on your boats."
     Modern humans were capable of long-distance sea travel 50,000 years ago as they colonised Australia, but evidence of advanced maritime fishing has been rare. Researchers until now have only been able to find evidence of open-ocean fishing up to 12,000 years ago.

Edited from Reuters (14 January 2012)

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