This is a “Neolithic” fish hook from the Mauritanian Sahara. A fish hook is a device for catching fish by impaling them in the mouth. They are normally attached to some form of line or lure device which connects the caught fish to the fisherman. The shape of a hook is either bended (fish hook sensu stricto) or straight (gorge; fish hook sensu lato) and both forms are known from the Saharan “Neolithic”. A gorge or skewer has a small shaft made of organic or inorganic material. It is sharp on both ends and notched or eyed in the middle where the cordage is fixed. Ethnographic evidence shows that a piece of bait is fixed on the skewer lengthwise. When the fish swallows the bait, it also swallows the gorge.
Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, and netting, angling and trapping. While hand catching of course leaves no traces in the archaeological records, examples of spearing, and angling are known from Prehistoric times.
Although Neanderthals are assumed to be Top-Carnivores, freshwater fish were also exploited by them. At Payre, Ardèche, France (beginning of MIS 5/end of MIS 6 to beginning of MIS 7/end of MIS 8; approximately 125–250 k.a.BP), Neanderthals also exploited starchy plants, birds, and fish in addition to large terrestrial herbivores. This pattern is also present during OIS4/3 at sites at the Mediterranean cost near Valencia and in the Perigord (thick ash and charcoal deposits associated with fish remains in the Mousterian layers of Grotte XVI, for example).
Marine fishes from MSA sites have been described from Klasies River main site and from Sibudu (Howiesons Poort and Still Bay levels, late MSA levels). The earliest harpoons, putatively for fishing were found at three archaeological sites at Katanda on the Upper Semliki River (Democratic Republic of Congo). Dating by both direct and indirect means indicate an age of ~90 ka or older.. Such weapons could were obviously used to hunt catfish; those remains were abundant at the site. One exemplar may weight as much as 68 kg (enough to feed 80 people for two days). Because no other barbed points from the MSA have been found, some researchers suggest, that these findings are coming from a disturbed context. Anyhow, published data from the site so far indicate that there are only minor taphonomic disturbances and that the barbed points are not from a later LSA occupation. It remains an enigma, why this invention was not transferred to /or accepted by other foragers. Early well-dated non-African specimens of barbed points are associated with the 13,5 ka BP Magdalenian levels at Tito Bustillo cave in northern Spain. Unilaterally and bilaterally barbed harpoons are both hallmarks of the upper Magdalenian and often found together.
The world’s oldest fish hook made on Trochus shell was found in stratigraphic context at the Jerimalai cave in East Timor dated to ca. 16-23 k.a. BP. In addition more than 38000 fish bones were excavated from deeper strata of the site, dating the oldest back to ca. 42 k.a. BP or even older. Some fish remains were from inshore species, but almost half were species that dwell in the open ocean, providing the oldest known evidence of humans fishing far from shore. These findings are putatively related to seafaring H. sapiens.
The earliest known ﬁsh hooks and pronged leisters in Europe appear during the late Magdalenian occupations in Franco-Cantabria such as that at Courbet (Penne-Tarn, France) and are about 12,5 k.a. old. Gorges of excellent quality are known from La Madeleine in the Vezere valley, but may appear even earlier (La Gravette; F. Lacorre ; Planche LXXXIV). Fish hooks are abundant at many Mesolithic sites in Northern Europe; where organic material has been very well preserved by bogs and at submerged sites in the Norhern Sea. From these sites also well preserved fish weirs are known. The earliest radiocarbon dated example is from 7,5 k.a. BP was found in connection with marine dump layer off the late-Maglemosian coastal site of Kalø Vig.
During the Early and Middle Holocene large areas of the Sahara were characterized by a humid climate with new networks of waterways and lakes and a manifold water fauna. Under these environmental conditions a lifestyle developed in the southern Sahara which has been abelled the “African Aqualithic”. The term refers to a lifestyle as fisher-hunter‐gatherers who heavily relied on aquatic resources. Dotted wavy‐line pottery and harpoons are the diagnostic features but there are also other artifacts from organic material such as fish hooks and gorges. Similar finds have been made in East Africa, mainly at sites in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region.