Ashkelon excavation uncovers 6,000-year-old fishhook
While excavating the coastal city of Ashkelon in southern Israel, archaeologists uncovered a 6,000-year-old copper fishhook. Measuring 2.5 inches long, the excavators believe it could have been used to catch large fish, such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna, or possibly even sharks.
Dating to the Chalcolithic period (c. 4500–3300 BCE), the large hook is one of the oldest examples of copper used for crafting fishhooks. The wide use of copper was an innovation of the Chalcolithic period and earlier fishhooks were commonly made from bone. The size of the hook is also remarkable, being much larger than typical fishing implements. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the hook would have been used to catch fish between 6 and 10 feet long. This would have been especially good for fishing for sharks.
“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,” said Yael Abadi-Reiss, co-director of the IAA excavation. “The use of copper began in the Chalcolithic period, and it is fascinating to discover that this technological innovation was applied in antiquity for the production of fishhooks for fishermen along the Mediterranean coast.”
The region around Ashkelon was home to several large villages during the Chalcolithic period when the economy was likely not significantly different than what it is today. In addition to fishing, these villages were primarily dependent on agriculture, such as the cultivation of wheat, barley, legumes, and fruit trees, as well as herding animals such as sheep, goats, and cattle.
“We learn about the dietary habits of the people who lived here 6,000 years ago from the remains of animal bones found in ancient rubbish pits, from burnt wheat grains found in ovens, and from the hunting, cooking, and food-processing tools retrieved, including flint sickles, and a variety of pottery vessels that served for the storage, cooking, and the conservation of food by fermentation and salting,” said Abadi-Reiss.
The excavation was carried out as part of a salvage excavation before the construction of a new neighborhood in Ashkelon. Salvage excavations make up the majority of archaeological expeditions in Israel, with around 300 carried out every year.
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