BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Fishing for Sharks in Ancient Israel

Ashkelon excavation uncovers 6,000-year-old fishhook

Hook used for fishing for sharks

The Chalcolithic hook possibly used in fishing for sharks. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.

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.

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Adding Shark to the Menu

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.

Fishing for sharks

Yael Abadi-Reiss holding the 6,000-year-old copper fishing hook. Courtesy Emil Aladjem, IAA.

“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.

Ashkelon

The excavation in Ashkelon. Courtesy Yael Abadi-Reiss, IAA.

“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.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Shark Week in Biblical Jerusalem?

Hunting Elephants in Prehistoric Israel

Ancient Ostrich Eggs Over Easy

 

All-Access members, read more in the BAS Library:

Animals of the Bible: Living Links to Antiquity

The Biblical Oryx—A New Name for an Ancient Animal

Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.

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1 Responses

  1. Dr. Eric Rice says:

    It would be great to know the metalurgy of the hook; pure copper would be way too soft to hold a fish on a handline. In that day and time there were no steel leaders to use with the hook even if it was strong enough. Sharks teeth would have cut right through any leader or line material made at that time. A six to nine foot shark of the varieties in the Med. Sea could easily bite through the fish hook itself! Maybe finding the hook near the sea is just circumstantial evidence and the hook was used in transfering captives of war as the “hook through the jaw?” Captives would not pull hard against the hook due to the pain it invoked. I’m guessing of course, but guesses must be logical, your guess without more info on the metalurgy of the hook, leaders used, and handline used to catch sharks is entirely illogical. Please provide more info!!

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1 Responses

  1. Dr. Eric Rice says:

    It would be great to know the metalurgy of the hook; pure copper would be way too soft to hold a fish on a handline. In that day and time there were no steel leaders to use with the hook even if it was strong enough. Sharks teeth would have cut right through any leader or line material made at that time. A six to nine foot shark of the varieties in the Med. Sea could easily bite through the fish hook itself! Maybe finding the hook near the sea is just circumstantial evidence and the hook was used in transfering captives of war as the “hook through the jaw?” Captives would not pull hard against the hook due to the pain it invoked. I’m guessing of course, but guesses must be logical, your guess without more info on the metalurgy of the hook, leaders used, and handline used to catch sharks is entirely illogical. Please provide more info!!

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