Sinker Stones during Prehistory

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Early modern humans and Neanderthals shared  similar  marine exploitation patterns, first attested during MIS6 by shellfish gathering (Bajondillo Cave in Torremolinos, Spain, 150 k.a.; Pinnacle Point, South Africa, 164 k.a.).

While fishing would have played an integral part within the lives of prehistoric coastal and island communities, during prehistoric times, direct evidence for fishing is not well represented within the archaeological record. In part, this is as a result of the poor preservation of fish bones, which are affected by taphonomic factors such as physical, chemical and biological processes following their deposition.

Sinker stones, also known as net weight, net sinker, anchor stone, fishing weight, plummet, poids à pêche  may be the most common archaeological artifact found alongside or near water sources throughout the world.  The term is used loosely to describe any grooved, notched or perforated stone weight that was used to weigh down a fishing net or line.

The sinker stone shown here was once used by prehistoric or sub recent fishers on Seine River near Rouen. Such artifacts were found in considerable quantities during dredging operations at Bardouville (Département de la Seine -Maritime, Haute-Normandie).  It is a flattish D shaped pebble with one flat and one convex face (13 x 9 x 3 cm; 575 grams). The object has a hole drilled all the way through, large enough to get a strong rope through it.

Net sinkers were manufactured during prehistoric times until the 19th century from naturally rounded stones. The easiest way to produces such an artifact is  double-notching  along two opposites edges of a flat pebble.

The earliest double-notched pebbles were recovered from in situ context at Ohalo II (Sea of Galilee, Jordan Valley), radiometrically dated to ca. 21 k.a. BP. The implements were made of limestone and basalt, and usually weigh 150-400 grams. Here several lines of evidence point to their use as sinkers: First, hundreds of thousands of fish bones were recovered from in situ at the site.  Second, small pieces of burnt strings were found on the floor of brush hut 1. These could be the remains of baskets or nets. The use of the double-notched pebbles as net sinkers was reconstructed on the basis of physical characteristics, use signs in the notches and ethnography.

The production of perforated pebbles as sinkers may be more sophisticated and is not known before the North European Mesolithic, were abundant evidence of exploitation of maritime and freshwater resources like fish bones, harpoons, leisters, fish hooks, net sinkers, and even basket traps were preserved in bogs.

Literature about such artifacts, maybe to trivial for Archaeologists  is notoriously scare. Some reviews can be found via the french portal Persee ( there is no German equivalent for this great source of knowledge!).

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One Response to Sinker Stones during Prehistory

  1. Marnie says:

    Thank you. That’s very interesting.

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