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27 January 2012
7,500-year-old fishing village found in Russia

A team of Spanish and Russian archeologists has documented a series of seines and fish traps - on the banks of the River Dubna, 100 kilometres north of Moscow - which are more than 7,500 years old. The equipment, among the oldest in Europe, displays great technical complexity. The survey will aid in understanding the role of fishing among European settlements by the early Holocene (10,000 years ago), especially in areas where the inhabitants did not practice agriculture until nearly the Iron Age.  
     Ignacio Clemente, researcher at the CSIC (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas) and manager of the project, explains: "Until now, it was thought that the Mesolithic groups had seasonal as opposed to permanent settlements. According to the results obtained during the excavations, in both Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, the human group that lived in the Dubna river basin, near Moscow, carried out productive activities during the entire year". According to Clemente and his team, the inhabitants preferred to hunt during summer and winter, fish during spring and early summer, and harvest wild berries at the end of summer and in autumn.
      While it is commonly accepted that the first permanent settlements appeared with the rise of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, that theory overlooks other valid possibilities - such as the fishermen in the Bay of Biscay, who did not cultivate the land until long after the practice reached Spain, about 5,000 years ago. The recent Russian findings support a new hypothesis: fishing, and not agriculture, allowed certain populations to become sedentary.
     During the three year project just ended, several types of objects were found: everyday objects (spoons, plates, etc.), working tools, hunting weapons and fishing implements, all of them manufactured with flint and other stones, bones and shafts. Clemente adds: "The documented fishing equipment shows a highly developed technology, aimed for the practice of several fishing techniques. We can highlight the finding of two large wooden fishing traps (a kind of interwoven basket with pine rods used for fishing), very well-preserved, dating back 7,500 years. This represents one of the oldest dates in this area and, no doubt, among the best-preserved since they still maintain some joining ropes, manufactured with vegetable fibers". In addition, the researchers have recovered related objects such as hooks, harpoons, weights, floats, needles for the manufacture and repair of nets, as well as moose rib knives to scale and clean the fish.  
     The Zamostje 2 site has preserved numerous organic materials, such as wood, bones, tree leaves, fossil feces, and especially fish remains. These will allow researchers to estimate the percentage of fish in the diet, survey species, catch amount and size, and fishing season. The team have also found abundant remains of hunting; mostly moose, beaver and dog. "We have found signs of presence throughout the year," says Clemente; "these people were not nomadic." He then adds, "Farming did not arrive in this area until some 3,000 years ago." The greatest secret is how the fish traps were constructed. "We have no idea how they managed such thin rods of pine, although it could be that the wood was frozen," concludes Clemente.

Edited from CSIC (25 January 2012), El Publico (26/01/2012)

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