Ancient fish hook suggests sharks were hunted off Israel's coast 6,000 years ago
Researchers unearthed the "shark hook" at a newly discovered village buried under a known archaeological site. Experts say it could be one of the first of its kind made in the area.
Shark was likely on the menu around 6,000 years ago in what is now Israel, according to researchers who uncovered a large copper fishing hook in a previously unknown ancient village.
Archaeologists unearthed the "shark hook" during a 2018 survey along the Mediterranean coast on the outskirts of Ashkelon, a city that was built on top of an ancient seaport of the same name and dates back as far as ancient Egypt. Byzantine and Roman structures had previously been discovered at the site, which sits around 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) from the sea. But the new excavations revealed parts of a village that date back around 6,000 years to the Chalcolithic period, also known as the "Copper Age," which lasted between 4500 B.C. and 3500 B.C. in the region.
The hook is around 2.5 inches (6.5 centimeters) long and 1.6 inches (4 cm) wide, which is big enough to reel in sharks between 6.5 and 10 feet (2 and 3 meters) long, such as dusky sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus) and sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus), or large fish such as tuna, all of which are local to the Mediterranean. However, given what marine biologists know about the deep-sea ecosystems in the region, sharks were a more likely target, according to The Times of Israel.
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The discovery is a "unique find" because most other fishing hooks uncovered from this time period are smaller and made from bone, Yael Abadi-Reiss, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority who co-led the excavation, said in a statement. It's possible that this is one of the first metal variants that people created in the region, considering copper was a relatively new material at the time, she added.
The village, which is not yet fully excavated, was large for its time period. As such, the residents likely had enough resources to have individuals who were dedicated to metalwork and fishing, Abadi-Reiss said. However, other finds at the site, such as domesticated animal remains, suggest that the village's main source of income and food would have been traditional agriculture.
"The rare fishhook tells the story of the village fishermen who sailed out to sea in their boats and cast the newly invented copper fishhook into the water, hoping to add coastal sharks to the menu," Abadi-Reiss said.
The oldest fishing hooks ever discovered were made of bone and date back to around 42,000 years ago. These prehistoric hooks, which were discovered in Southeast Asia on the island nation of East Timor in 2005, were also used to fish for tuna-size fish in the deep sea.
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Harry is a U.K.-based staff writer at Live Science. He studied Marine Biology at the University of Exeter (Penryn campus) and after graduating started his own blog site "Marine Madness," which he continues to run with other ocean enthusiasts. He is also interested in evolution, climate change, robots, space exploration, environmental conservation and anything that's been fossilized. When not at work he can be found watching sci-fi films, playing old Pokemon games or running (probably slower than he'd like).
ChrispaThis is not a shark hook. It is not even a fish hook. Copper/alloys are too soft and would bend easily under the weight of a fish. There is no attachment groove or eye to hold a line - it would simply fall off as soon as a fish fought back. There is no barb. The hook is too wide - look at any early bronze age hooks, they have a much more inturned point. Also 6k years ago there would have been plenty of big fish around, so nobody would target ammonia filled shark. It is more likely a hook to hang something over a fire. BTW - Isreal didn't exist 6k years agoReply
billposerThe Greenland Shark is full of ammonia, but most shark species are not and are quite edible. In the 1980s shark was sold in supermarkets in Boston as a cheap substitute for swordfish. Shark is not eaten much in Israel today because it is not kosher, but shark was eaten in ancient times in Israel and is still eaten today in countries such as Greece. And BTW, although no state of Israel existed 6k years ago, as the current state and ancient civilization associated with the area, "Israel" is a good identifier for the region.Reply
areanThis is not a shark hook. It is not even a fish hook razai set . Copper/alloys are too soft and would bend easily under the weight of a fish. There is no attachment groove or eye to hold a line - it would simply fall off as soon as a fish fought deskpro back.Reply
billposerThe post to which I responded made three points: (a) about whether the hook is a fish hook; (b) about whether anyone would fish for shark; (c) about calling the area "Israel". The first one may be correct - I am not an expert on fish hooks. I responded to the second and third points.Reply
By Kiley Price