In Northern Israel in what was once known as Upper Galilea a series of intricate fishhooks have been discovered deep in the soil near the Jordan River Dureijat. Radiocarbon dating of the strata from which the hooks were taken dates them to between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago and redefines current the knowledge fishing technology from that time.

ancient fish hooks
Via: Pedergnana et al./PLOS One

Buried in the layers below the ancient fishing equipment are remnants of the Kebaran culture, a nomadic people associated with bow and arrow hunting and the possible domestication of dogs. The artifacts from this study were found just above this layer and are thought to have come from the Natufian culture.

In ancient eras a culture had to be particularly good at acquiring food in order to cease the nomadic way of
life. In most regions this was not achieved until agriculture became the main method of food production. In the Levant this didn’t happen until around 10,000 years ago.

The complex tools in use by the Natufian culture may shed some light on their way of life. The hooks were made from bone and were of varying sizes to catch a variety of different fish. Some even had barbs on the ends to ensure that the fish couldn’t escape being pulled from the water. Weights made from pebbles had grooves on one side in order tie them to the hooks to keep the fishing apparatus at the right depth.

Jordan River Dujeit archaeology strata
Via: Pedergnana et al./PLOS One

Along with these intricate details there was also evidence of different lures that were used as well. The authors speculate that floats could have been used as well, possibly made from porcupine quills. All this combined means that the Natufian fishers likely had a comprehensive understanding of what different fish ate and how to catch them, which likely contributed to their success.

According to the authors of the study, which was published in the scientific journal, PLOS One, in October of 2021, it is unlikely that the hooks, lures, and weights were crafted on site. Rather, it appears that the Natufian made them off-site and then carried them to their preferred fishing spot, discarding broken equipment (and losing some hooks) in the fishing process. Evidence of habitation from this layer of the soil was not present, despite all the hooks found there. The Natufians were mainly stationary, but they likely did not live at the fishing site.

pebble weights used for fishing in Levant 15,000 years ago
Via: Pedergnana et al./PLOS One

Evidence of human consumption of fish far predates the finds at the Jordan River Dureijat, but sophisticated hooks of this age haven’t been discovered until now. This could be because the alternative material for hooks, wood, simply hasn’t stood the ravages of time. Or it could be that the Natufian fishers here were simply ahead of the curve.