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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Japan May Have The World’s Oldest Fishhooks

I never actually think about fishing, until someone invites me along and I enjoy the heck out of it. One of my favorite television programs is River Monsters, a science and fishing show by angler extraordinaire Jeremy Wade. Hee… wade.

Some of the more memorable times I have gone fishing include going salmon fishing with a Mohawk chief here in Canada, with Michael Hutchison in Japan, and with my Dad at a pond north west of Toronto.

At no time did I physically catch a fish, but there were a few battles.

Most of my fishing attempts have been spent unraveling knotted up line in the reel or untangling myself from a submerged tree trunk or algae, or wondering just how the hell I could hook myself in my own hand, then my back, and then my father’s shoulder.

So… maybe I don’t enjoy fishing as much as I enjoy drowning worms, but whatever. This story is what is known as “the hook”.

A few years ago, fishing hooks made up of the shells of sea snails were found in the Sakitari Cave on the southern end of Okinawa, Japan.
Sakitari Cave, Okinawa, Japan
It took a while, but scientists now agree that these fishhooks, which were ground into shape to look like a crescent moon, are about 23,000 years-old, which makes them the oldest fishing gear in the world… or at least as old as similar fishhooks found in Timor.

I would assume since there was more than just one old fishhook found within the Sakitari Cave, that it didn't simply wash in there with a flooding, but rather it was because it was used by the cave dwellers who kept their fishing tools safe in there.   

Keep in mind, that these are simply the oldest fishhooks that have been found to date. No one is suggesting that the Okinawans et al discovered fishing with hooks.
From left: World's oldest fishhook; a partially-finished fishhook of the same age; a shell fragment of the same vintage from which the fishhooks would have been made.
While it is indeed kind of cool to know that the old Okinawans and Timbor(ians?) though a hook shape would work to catch fish—such as eel or parrotfish—just like what we would use today if we were in the mood to impale a worm and then drown it.

On the plus side, the old hooks look far less penetrating in one’s thumb than today’s barbed river monstrosities.

Andrew Joseph

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