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Fishing in Antiquity: 6,000-year-old Fish Hook Discovered

March 30, 2023
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The unique and ancient copper fishing hook found at excavations in Ashkelon

Thursday, 30 March 2023 | A 6,000-year-old copper fishhook—one of the oldest known in the world—possibly for fishing sharks or very large fish, was discovered in the Israel Antiquity Authority [IAA] excavations carried out in Ashkelon in 2018. The find, presented here for the first time, will be exhibited in April at the 48th Archaeological Congress, organized by the IAA, the Israel Exploration Society and the Israeli Archaeological Association.

According to Dr. Yael Abadi-Reiss, co-director of the excavation together with Dr. Daniel Varga, both from the IAA, “This unique find is 6.5 centimeters [2.56 in.] long and 4 centimeters [1.57 in] wide, its large dimensions making it suitable for hunting 2 to 3-meter-long [6.56 to 9.84 ft.-long] sharks or large tuna fish.

“Most ancient fishhooks found previously were made of bone and were much smaller than this one. 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.”

In the Chalcolithic period, there were large villages around Ashkelon, whose economy was based on branches of agriculture still common today, such as the pasturing of sheep, goats and cattle, the cultivation of wheat, barley and legumes and the tending of fruit orchards. “We learn about the dietary habits of the people who lived here 6,000 years ago 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. 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,” says Dr. Abadi-Reiss.

The research on the copper fishhook is being undertaken by Dr. Yotam Asscher of the IAA and Magda Batiashvilli, and we await new discoveries on this fascinating artifact. Advanced technologies are available for today’s scholars, opening up a world of new questions that could not previously be answered.

The special find will be on exhibit for the first time at the 48th Archaeological Congress of the IAA, the Israel Exploration Society and the Israeli Archaeological Association, which will be held on April 3, 2023.

According to Eli Escusido, director of the IAA, “We are very excited that the IAA will host the Congress participants in the new home of Israel archaeology—the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel in Givat Ram, Jerusalem. A modern visitors’ center will be set up for the general public, enabling a glimpse “behind the scenes” of the extensive archaeological activity that takes place in Israel, and a view of some of the wonderful treasures that come to light from underground.”

Posted on March 30, 2023

Source: (Excerpt from a press release originally issued by the Israel Antiquity Authority on March 29, 2023. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today.)

Photo Credit: Emil Aladjem/IAA

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