Fishing techniques of the Jomon people may have diffused from fishermen of the Wallacea-Spice Islander / Sundaland-Sahul region

There are today many proponents of a theory that a great coastal migration occurred along Southern Asia, into Southeast Asia and Australia, and up the Asian coast as well as up along the Pacific Rim. It is believed to have migrated to the Americas some 6,000-8,000 years before present, and was carried by Na-Dené-speaking peoples into the northwest Pacific coast of North America. The distribution of Haplogroup C (Y-DNA) across the populations of northern Eurasia, eastern Eurasia, Oceania, and the Americas is thought to support this theory.  Haplogroup C2 is considered to be the modal haplogroup which is found among certain local populations within IndonesiaMelanesiaMicronesia, and Polynesia; among the populations of some islands of Polynesia,  and Haplogroup C1, an ancient but at present extremely rare lineage, is specific to the Japanese and Ryukyuan populations of Japan, among whom it occurs at a frequency of about 5%.

According to some scholars, a coastal migration occurred after the Ice Ages and that oceanographic and archaeological evidence supports that it took place by around 6,000 years ago. The trigger for the migration was apparently the last Ice Age flood that took place 7,500 years ago. Around 6,000 years ago, not only  new maritime strategies and technologies, but also new boat designs and sailing and exploration techniques were seen in the Spice Islands between Sundaland and Sahul, which is the region where the Timorese discovery of the earliest deep-sea fishing techniques were reported to have been found (see Discovery News article excerpted below). Toggle harpoon technology has been noted to be an innovation that characterized the peoples from Northeast Japan and all along the coastal areas of the Pacific Rim.

It is possible and likely that fishing techniques of the early Timorese islanders and neighboring natives, may have diffused towards Pacific East Asians, reaching the  Jomon people. The Jomon, particularly in the northeast of Japan are known to have been sophisticated fishermen with deep-sea fishing techniques belonging to the North Pacific-Bering Strait toggle-harpoon tradition zone.

According to the experts, there was a “voyaging nursery” stretch that extended from the Sundaland-Sahul region all the way to Japan and that the maritime voyagers would have sailed outwards from the Spice Islands taking the migration paths following the East Australian Current flowing out of the West Pacific Warm Pool south to New Zealand, and then  the Kurioshio Current flowing through the West Pacific Warm Pool north to Japan.

Stephen Oppenheimer in his book “Eden in the East” and Charles and Frances Pierce in their “Oceanographic Migration” believe that the distributions of mitochondrial DNA haplogroups B and F in Pacific and Spice Island populations are the genetic evidence supporting the oceanographic migratory trail. Haplogroup B’s ancestral form are deemed to be found only in India, Borneo and Wallacea, and out of New Guinea to the rest of the Pacific, the first mutation (M38) is seen. Genetic research shows “high incidence in Southeast Asia, but only subhaplogroup F1b is well represented in the Japanese, including the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyuan” (the highest diversities for this subgroup are in eastern China including Taiwan (100%)). From the same study, Ryukyuans have been shown to possess many lineages that belong to the southern haplogroups F and B. Ryukyuans (and the possibly related Lahu tribe of Yunnan) possess high frequencies of subclades of B4 while the B5b1 derivative shows its highest diversity (67%) and frequency (1%) in mainland Japanese in particular.

Early Humans Were Skilled Deep-Sea Fishermen (Discovery News, Nov 28, 2011)

Humans living 40,000 years ago nabbed fish that are challenging to catch even today …

A complete shell fish hook from the Pleistocene levels of a cave site at the east end of Timor. Photo: Susan O’Connor

Prehistoric humans living more than 40,000 years ago had mastered the skills needed to catch fast-moving, deep ocean fish such as tuna, a remarkable new archaeological find has revealed.

In a small cave at the eastern end of East Timor, north of Australia, archaeologist Sue O’Connor from the Australian National University has unearthed the bones of more than 2,800 fish, some of which were caught as long as 42,000 years ago.

The find shows that the people living in the region had the sophisticated cognitive skills needed to haul in such a difficult catch, O’Connor says.

Her findings appeared in the journal Science.

“What the site has shown us is that early modern humans in island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills,” she said.

“They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today — fish like tuna. It’s a very exciting find.”

It isn’t clear exactly what techniques the people living in the area at the time used to catch these fish.

Tuna can be caught using nets or by trolling hooks on long lines through the water, O’Connor said.

“Either way it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore.”

The site where the discoveries were made, known as Jerimalai cave, is a small rock overhang hidden behind in foliage, a few hundred meters from the shore.

“When I discovered it in 2005, I didn’t think that Jerimalai would tell us about the very early occupation of Timor,” O’Connor said. “I was quite surprised when I found all these fish bones and turtle bones.”

So far, she and her colleagues have only excavated two small test pits at the cave, which contained a number of stone artifacts, bone points, animal remains, shell beads and fish hooks.

In just one of those pits, 1 meter square and 2 meters deep, they found 39,000 fish bones.

They also unearthed another rare find — a small piece of fishing hook made from a shell, which dates to between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago.

This is the earliest example of a fishing hook that has ever been found, the researchers say. They are hopeful that more extensive excavations might reveal more hooks at the site.

“I think Jerimalai gives us a window into what maritime coastal occupation was like 40,000 to 50,000 years ago that we don’t really have anywhere else in the world,” said O’Connor.

***

Deep sea fishing for tuna began 42,000 years ago (Nov 24, Newscientist)

By Wendy Zukerman

Tuna has been on the menu for a lot longer than we thought. Even 42,000 years ago, the deep-sea dweller wasn’t safe from fishing tackle according to new finds in southeast Asia.

We know that open water was no barrier to travel in the Pleistocene – humans must have crossed hundreds of kilometres of ocean to reach Australia by 50,000 years ago. But while humans had already been pulling shellfish out of the shallows for 100,000 years by that point, the first good evidence of fishing with hooks or spears comes much later – around 12,000 years ago.

The new finds blow that record out of the water. Sue O’Connor at the Australian National University in Canberra and colleagues dug through deposits at the Jerimalai shelter in East Timor. They discovered 38,000 fish bones from 23 different taxa, including tuna and parrotfish that are found only in deep water. Radiocarbon dating revealed the earliest bones were 42,000 years old.

Amidst the fishy debris was a broken fish hook fashioned from shell, which the team dated to between 16,000 and 23,000 years. “This is the earliest known example of a fish hook,” says O’Connor. Another hook, made around 11,000 years ago, was also found.

Sandra Bowdler at the University of Western Australia in Perth, who was not involved in the study, is convinced that those colonising East Timor 42,000 years ago had “fully formed” fishing skills. “By this time, modern humans are assumed to have the same mental capacities as today,” she says.

“There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world,” says Ian McNiven of Monash University in Melbourne, who was not a member of O’Connor’s team. “Maybe this is the crucible for fishing.”

East Timor hosts few large land animals, so early occupants would have needed highly developed fishing skills to survive. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” says O’Connor. “Apart from bats and rats, there’s nothing to eat here.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that fishing began in the region. At the time, sea-levels were around 60 to 70 metres lower than today. Any sites of former human occupation that were located on the Pleistocene shore – rather than in coastal cliffs like the Jerimalai shelter – are now submerged.

Broader patterns of human migration suggest that more evidence of fishing would be found through examining those submerged sites. After leaving Africa around 70,000 years ago, it took modern humans only 20,000 years to skirt around Asia and reach Australia. The journey over land into Europe, although much shorter, took 30,000 years. “Humans appeared to move quite quickly along the coasts,” says McNiven. “Developed fishing skills could have kept them moving.”

Journal Reference: Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1207703

Read more at Archaeologists land world’s oldest fish hook (Nature, Nov 24, 2011); Early humans were skilled deep-sea fishermen (ABC Science, Nov 25, 2011);

World’s Oldest Fish Hooks Show Early Humans Fished Deep Sea (Nov 24, 2011 Livescience) has a photo image of Jerimalai Cave here.

Oceanic migration: paths, sequence, timing and range of prehistoric migration in the Pacific and Indian Oceans by Charles E. M. Pearce, Frances M. Pearce

Mitochondrial Genome Variation in Eastern Asia and the Peopling of Japan doi: 10.1101/gr.2286304Genome Res. 2004. 14:1832-1850 

Gone fishing! (Heritage of Japan)

Prehistoric and Historic Settlement Patterns in the
Takase River Drainage, Northeastern Japan by Charles T. Keally

Excerpt: “the toggle harpoon and composite fishhook do seem to be major technological innovations of the Earliest Jomon peoples along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan (Watanabe 1973: 112, 144). These implements were probably parts of a complex of technology and skills being developed for exploiting large marine animals such as tuna and sea mammals. This new strategy appears to have spread southward along the coast of northeastern Japan and northward around much of the North Pacific rim, where it formed part of the basis of the marine adaptations of many modern peoples (Vasilyevskiy, personal communication, 1987).”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s