Gone fishing? 42,000 years ago in East Timor

An archaeologist from the Australian National University has uncovered the world’s oldest evidence of deep sea fishing for big fish, showing that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had mastered one of our nation’s favourite pastimes. Professor Sue O’Connor of the College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU, also found the world’s earliest recorded fish hook in her excavations at a site in East Timor. The results of this work are published in the latest issue of Science.

The finds from the Jerimalai Cave site demonstrate that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had high-level maritime skills, and by implication the technology needed to make the ocean crossings to reach Australia. “The site that we studied featured more than 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 individual fish dating back 42,000 years”, said Professor O’Connor. “What the site in East Timor has shown us is that early modern humans in Island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills. They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today – fish like tuna. It’s a very exciting find”. Professor O’Connor also uncovered the world’s oldest fish hook, which dates from a later period. “We found a fish hook, made from a shell, which dates to between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago. This is, we believe, the earliest known example of a fish hook and shows that our ancestors were skilled crafts people as well as fishers. The hooks don’t seem suitable for pelagic fishing, but it is possible that other types of hooks were being made at the same time”.

What’s still unknown is how these ancient people were able to catch these fast-moving deep-ocean fish. “It’s not clear what method the occupants of Jerimalai used to capture the pelagic fish or even the shallow water species. But tuna can be caught in purse seines or leader nets, or by using hooks and trolling. Simple fish aggregating devices such as tethered logs can also be used to attract them. So they may have been caught using hooks or nets. Either way it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore”, said Professor O’Connor. She added that this may shed light on how Australia’s first inhabitants arrived on the continent. “We have known for a long time that Australia’s ancient ancestors must have been able to travel hundreds kilometres by sea because they reached Australia by at least 50,000 years ago. We also know that they used boats because Australia was separated from Southeast Asia by ocean throughout the human time span. When we look at the watercraft that Indigenous Australians used at the time of European contact, however, they are all very simple, like rafts and canoes. So how people got here at such an early date has always been puzzling. These new finds from Jerimalai cave go a long way to solving the puzzle”, said Professor O’Connor.


Beyond the Horizon



30.06.2012 - 05.11.2012

Sharing knowledge with the public means, in archaeology, a presentation of archaeological remains. A free exhibition will open in June 2012 centred around the replica of the boat built in Dover over the winter. Whilst Bronze Age maritime archaeology will be at its heart, several topics will be addressed: the environment, the boat and maritime archaeology, travel and exchange in the Bronze Age, specialised craftworking, and food and housing for a family around 1550 BC. The gold treasure of Guînes (Pas-de-Calais), kept at the French National Archaeology Museum (MAN), will be displayed to the public for the first time in the area of its discovery. Finds from France (from local excavations and MAN), Flanders and England (from Dover Museum and the British Museum) will be brought together for the first time. Films of excavations, experimental archaeology, 3D reconstructions and multimedia presentations will all form part of the exhibition. Particular attention will be given to children who will benefit from specially written information.on

Bronze Age in Cambridgeshire | Britain - six boats and hundreds of intact artefacts

Six boats hollowed out of oak tree trunks are among hundreds of intact artefacts from 3,000 years ago that have been discovered in the Cambridgeshire fens, the Observer can reveal. The scale, quality and condition of the objects, the largest bronze age collection ever found in one place in Britain, have astonished archaeologists – and barely a fraction of the site has been excavated. Unique textile fragments, wicker baskets and wooden sword handles have survived. There are even containers of food, including a bowl with a wooden spoon still wedged into the contents, now analysed as nettle stew, which may have been a favourite dish in 1000BC. The boats – two of which bear unusual decoration – are in such good condition that the wood grain and colour can be seen clearly, as can signs of repairs by their owners.

David Gibson, head of Cambridge University's archaeological unit, said the discoveries were internationally important. "One canoe would be great. Two, exceptional. Six almost feels greedy", he said. Mark Knight, the unit's senior project officer, added: "We talk about bronze age landscapes and it always feels as if we're looking through a very narrow window, with the curtains partly drawn or slightly misted over. Now it's as though someone's opened the windows and we're seeing so much more".

The artefacts survived because they were immersed in deep layers of peat and silt. When those layers are lifted off, "the objects are so pristine", Knight said, "it's as if 3,000 years never happened. The softest, wettest deposits ensured that past activity has been cosseted". The artefacts were submerged under an ancient watercourse along the southern edge of the Flag Fen Basin, land altered over millennia by rising sea levels. In the 17th century the Dutch showed how to drain waterlogged land, and today the site east of Peterborough is accessible. Knight said: "In our [bronze age] landscape… you could have walked along the bottom of the fenland basin and to the bottom of the North Sea hunting for deer. By the Roman period, you were perched up at Peterborough, looking out over a huge wet expanse of peat and reed swamp". At ground level, there had been no clue to the artefacts' existence because they were so deep – four metres below ground – and would not have been picked up by aerial, radar, or other exploratory surveys.

The excavation, which is likely to continue for years, has been made possible thanks to Hanson, a bricks and cement supplier. Under planning regulations, the company is obliged to fund archaeological digs, but it has been especially helpful, say the archaeologists. Crucially, and unusually, they were able to excavate down to unprecedented depths since Hanson's need for clay for bricks requires extraction at Jurassic age levels. Knight said: "So we get to see entire buried landscapes. Some of our colleagues try to find ways of getting to the bottom of the North Sea… [while] we get an early view of the same submerged space, but via the humble brick".

Along the 150-metre stretch of a bronze age river channel, they have found the best preserved example of prehistoric river life. There are weirs and fish traps in the form of big woven willow baskets, plus fragments of garments with ornamental hems made from fibrous bark and jewellery, including green and blue beads. Extensive finds of metalwork include bronze swords and spears, some apparently tossed into the river in perfect condition, possibly as votive offerings. One of the boats is 8.3 metres long. "It feels as if you could get the whole family – granny, grandad, a couple of goats and everything – in there", said Knight. The smallest boat is just over four metres long.

The finds reveal how, with the rise in water levels in the bronze age, people adapted to a wetland environment, using rivers for transport, living off pike, perch, carp and eel. How far they could travel in the log boats is unclear. Although the boats were unlikely to have been used at sea, one of the bronze age swords is of a type normally found in northern Spain. Once removed from the fenland, the artefacts must be conserved before eventual public display. Knight said: "Often at an excavation, it takes much imagination for it to become apparent. This site doesn't need that. It's intact. It feels as if we've actually caught up the [bronze age] people. It feels like we're there".


Archaeological Prospection 2013

10th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection

Austrian Academy of Sciences | Vienna

May 29th June 2nd 2013

The organizing committee and partner organizations are honoured to announce the 10th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection (AP2013) on behalf of the International Society for Archaeological Prospection (ISAP) and the Aerial Archaeology Research Group (AARG) to be held in Vienna/Austria from Wednesday May 29th until Sunday 2nd of June 2013. 

The AP 2013 Conference will be hosted by the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology and the Vienna Institute for Archaeological Science – University of Vienna. 

Formas de Terra e Fogo | Earth and Fire Shapes

A exposição Formas de Terra e Fogo pretende fazer uma ponte entre os processos mais remotos da produção cerâmica e a criação artística contemporânea. Propondo um salto entre milénios, esta exposição responde a um fascínio pelos fragmentos arqueológicos vindos de tempos antigos, de sociedades extintas e enigmáticas.

As esculturas de Sara Navarro, (re)criadas pela arte do fogo, transmitem algo de primitivo, pré-histórico ou arqueológico. Algo que evoca a arte e a cultura de outros tempos, de outros lugares, algo que nos desperta os ecos de uma terra antiga.

A dualidade de referências, entre um passado remoto e a contemporaneidade, funde-se num trabalho de síntese, em que as esculturas funcionam como metáfora que opera no deslocamento entre o sentido histórico das suas referências e o imaginário da autora.

“No meu trabalho exploro a relação entre a mão e a matéria, no sentido do ‘saber fazer’ artesanal. Procuro entrar nos gestos dos produtores ancestrais, reproduzindo-os, sentindo-os como meus. Pelo poder do fogo, para transformar a suave e maleável argila num duro e resistente material, invoco as práticas pré-históricas da produção de artefactos cerâmicos e, nesse sentido, conoto a prática da escultura com um valor cultural primordial. A terra(argila), pela sua maleabilidade, permite-me explorar o gesto que, associado a uma substancialidade terrestre, está na base da criação de esculturas ‘arqueologizantes’, gérmenes da época atual.”

(Sara Navarro)

Partindo de realidades perdidas, as formas criadas pelas mãos da escultora põem o tempo presente em comunicação com passados remotíssimos. Pela transfiguração surgem modelos primordiais, reconhecíveis, ainda que com novas simbologias. Artefactos com significados sempre múltiplos, com sentidos construídos e reconstruídos...