November 25, 2011

Open sea fishing in Timor 42,000 years ago

Ancient Timorese fishing hooks
A serious attention call today for all those who doubt that boating (or even mariner) skills of Paleolithic peoples could even exist at all. Timorese people were fishing tuna, a pelagic fish, requiring certain serious mariner skills, some 42 thousand years ago, roughly when their distant relatives were making their first incursions into 'the Neanderlands' of West Eurasia. 

The ancient Timorese people who dwelt in Jerimalai shelter used elaborate fishing hooks, which are however dated to c. 23-16 Ka ago. These hooks were worked out of shells. With or without hooks, they fished a lot of tuna and parrotfish which are clearly dated to c. 42,000 years ago. These fish can't be captured from the shore.


Abstract

By 50,000 years ago, it is clear that modern humans were capable of long-distance sea travel as they colonized Australia. However, evidence for advanced maritime skills, and for fishing in particular, is rare before the terminal Pleistocene/early Holocene. Here we report remains of a variety of pelagic and other fish species dating to 42,000 years before the present from Jerimalai shelter in East Timor, as well as the earliest definite evidence for fishhook manufacture in the world. Capturing pelagic fish such as tuna requires high levels of planning and complex maritime technology. The evidence implies that the inhabitants were fishing in the deep sea.

Media/blog articles: New Scientist, Adelaide Now, Dienekes.

16 comments:

  1. R Buckminster Fuller, far from his usual area of expertise and with little in evidence to support the assertion, claimed that man was a marine ape, that we spent the glacial maixima paddling about in tropical lagoons, and that in adapting to such an environment our maritime skills developed at an extremely early date. Whenever I see data like this, I wonder whether he may have been correct.

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  2. Well, I'd rather think that we are intelligent apes and that means that we can do a lot of different things, including some related with water and such. What is clearly wrong is what many seem to do: to consider our species more of a "dumb animal" just because of being earlier in time and having not developed the Internet yet.

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  3. Sorry again. Couldn't resist:

    "A serious attention call today for all those who doubt that boating (or even mariner) skills of Paleolithic peoples could even exist at all".

    Who has ever claimed that? It is also almost certain that the first arrivals in Australia came via Timor. And we know humans reached Australia some time around 50,000 years ago at least, and must have used boats to get there. The boats must have been developed for some purpose, and presumably the boats were blown out to sea while fishing. However it is very likely that the actual voyage to Australia involved a return voyage of some kind. Just a few fishermen would not be sufficient to populate a continent. Dienekes has a few extra comments from Australian anthropologists on his blog.

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  4. "Who has ever claimed that?"

    You.

    We are not talking here of mere coastal or riverine boating nor likely of simple rafts: these people sailed to open waters and came back home regularly with loads of tuna and other pelagic fishes.

    While for you this is always unconceivable (e.g. "presumably the boats were blown out to sea"...), the data of this paper strongly suggests that it was the case, providing an explanation to the issue of how was Australia colonized c. 50 or even 60 Ka ago.

    The answer is now clear: the people who arrived to Indonesia with boats (fast coastal migration in the end, it seems) from East Africa improved them until they were able to sail to open seas in search of tuna and other foods, then they stumbled upon the continent, maybe several times, and set colonies there.

    I do not doubt that people like you will keep challenging these facts because it's something that seems to bounce in your closed minds but that's not important.

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  5. Aplogies for replying but you are completely wrong once more:

    "You".

    I have always claimed that humans must have expanded beyond Wallace's Line in boats. You're making things up, as usual.

    "While for you this is always unconceivable (e.g. 'presumably the boats were blown out to sea'...)"

    It is extremely unlikely that people set out for Australia deliberately without even knowing it was there. My guess is that Australia was discovered by accident but the people who discovered it were able to return home and gather up friends and relations. That is what people seem to have done much later as they spread out into the wider Pacific.

    "The answer is now clear: the people who arrived to Indonesia with boats (fast coastal migration in the end, it seems) from East Africa improved them until they were able to sail to open seas in search of tuna and other foods"

    As usual you are making a huge leap of faith in using the evidence here for a very limited region of the globe and applying it to the wider world simply because it suits your purpose. A comment from Dienekes:

    "'There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world,' says Ian McNiven of Monash University in Melbourne, who was not a member of O'Connor's team. 'Maybe this is the crucible for fishing'."

    Obviously you know far more about the subject than woulod any clonial from an Australain university, but I accept it as being probably correct. Except for 'the crucible for fishing' comment. Crucible for fishing from boats perhaps.

    "I do not doubt that people like you will keep challenging these facts because it's something that seems to bounce in your closed minds but that's not important".

    It is you who has the closed mind in this subject. So much so that you are consistently forced to make things up to support that closed mind.

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  6. If we have an already seagoing people at Timor (as we do, quite beyond doubt), and possibly other islands, they may have found Australia/New Guinea by luck initially, of course, but they were able to organize their return and eventually colonization expeditions: conscious ones.

    I am not "using the evidence here for a very limited region of the globe and applying it to the wider world"; I am not claiming that the coastal boaters of Eritrea (prior to the OoA) or Yemen, Oman, Sindh, Gujarat, etc. (after the OoA) had open seas sailing ability. I am claiming that they had coastal/riverine boating skills, which is a necessary precursor of the open seas mariner skill of these Timorese fishermen.

    I have evidence for coastal foraging in Eritrea, as you know well, and geneticists have been claiming for a while the convenience of some boating skills in order to explain the distribution of haploid lineages, in addition Armitage showed that people were migrating along the coasts of South Arabia and Petraglia that Paleolithic Indians used a technology closest not to Aterian, nor Mousterian not even to known Eastern African MSA tech but to South African one, again almost demanding a quite strict coastal migration.

    "So much so that you are consistently forced to make things up to support"...

    ... my opinions?

    Not really. The evidence falls from heaven, so to say, every other day. I just wait for it to arrive... and for you to squirm in vain looking not for the non-existent evidence of your unfinished ultra-conservative and short-sighted model, which could be described as "slow walker through the frozen Neanderlands, making complicated long detours through the Himalayas or the Takla Makan, I guess, each time their feet could get wet".

    You squirm actually looking for an excuse, a discursive rant that in your opinion might distract our attention from the hard core evidence.

    By the way, you never reply to my criticism of your model is implicitly racist, and your attitude as well, particularly your attitude re. India but also SE Asia. It may be an intrinsic part of a model devised by racist peoples of European (and occasionally also East Asian) roots in the early 20th century but you seem to simply accept that ugly "anti-brown" background.

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  7. A very impressive finding. Yet another piece of evidence that there may have been little (if any) time gap between the development of anatomically modern HS and cognitively modern HS. (Personally I believe that HS has been essentially the same since speciation)

    Similarly, another argument that HS was quite different from archaic Homo. Neanderthals/Erectus (& others?) were all over Eurasia for hundreds of thousands of years yet none of them that we know of ever domesticated a dog or went deep sea fishing.

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  8. Given the apparent great isolation of Melanesian and Australian populations, and their relatively small founder populations (both suggestive of a rare, one way trip), a middle ground may have been that the people of 42,000 ago had deep water boating, but not navigation skills that they were confident of beyond sight of shore (about 30 miles give or take, and a bit more if shore has mountains on it). You ought to be able to catch those kinds of fish while still remaining within sight of land around Timor Island.

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  9. @Joy: Well, Neanderthals had flutes and walls at least. I would not like to go on racist rampage against an extinct species or two but of course we surely had some small edge that we exploited in the long run. I tend to think that such edge was less of the intellectual kind and more of the kind of having longer legs that allowed us to exploit wider areas in the same time, while also being slightly more generalist and needing less calorie intake than our robust European cousins.

    While I did suggest that it's possible that dogs played a role in the demise of Neanderthals, it is also true that our Y-DNA MNOPS cousins in Melanesia (M, S, MNOPS*), which are also our mt DNA R relatives more or less (P), have never got any dog that we know of. There are wild dogs in Australia (dingos) but the Aborigines are less directly related (at least by haploid lineages) to the P and NO peoples of the second Eurasian wave than Papuans are.

    So I have doubts on my own ideas as well.

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  10. @Andrew: the haploid data of Australia and New Guinea talks of many founders, both in the Y-DNA and mtDNA sides, even if I think that all arrived in a specific window of time (of maybe 20 Ka???) soon after the Eurasian demic explosions.

    Hence this finding of high seas navigation actually helps to explain why Australasian Aborigines are so diverse and not more of a single/two founders' population as Eurasians as a whole are: while there was probably just one migration to Asia from Africa (two at most and very doubtful), there may have been several of those to Australia and Near Melanesia instead.

    Obviously crossing those channels is not something you do every day and once a population density is achieved, any further crossing would surely be absorbed by the natives. It is population density (for each production level) what mostly contains further immigration, in addition to natural obstacles.

    We see that very same relative isolation (with lesser exceptions) between South and East Asia but nobody dares to claim that Assam is impassable: it is just a buffer and that is enough to keep population flow at the level of a trickle, provided that both communicating vases have similar densities.

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  11. "they may have found Australia/New Guinea by luck initially, of course, but they were able to organize their return and eventually colonization expeditions: conscious ones".

    Isn't that what I said? 'My guess is that Australia was discovered by accident but the people who discovered it were able to return home and gather up friends and relations'.

    "I am claiming that they had coastal/riverine boating skills, which is a necessary precursor of the open seas mariner skill of these Timorese fishermen".

    But there is a complete lack of evidence for boating skills as early as the original OoA. It is only your claim of a Bab al Mandab crossing that requires you to accept such as necessary.

    "I have evidence for coastal foraging in Eritrea, as you know well"

    And I keep telling you that coastal foraging is quite possible without boats of any kind. Hence 'coastal foraging' is in no way evidence of 'boating'.

    "I just wait for it to arrive... and for you to squirm in vain looking not for the non-existent evidence of your unfinished ultra-conservative and short-sighted model"

    The evidence continues to pile up against any 'great southern coastal migration'. The theory was originally concocted to explain an apparent anomaly that now no longer exists.

    "By the way, you never reply to my criticism of your model is implicitly racist, and your attitude as well, particularly your attitude re. India but also SE Asia".

    You have never explained how my attitude is racist? Do you mean racism in support of SE Asian people? I quite accept that people from SE Asia were able to expand through much of the world.

    "you seem to simply accept that ugly 'anti-brown' background".

    You've obviously failed to notice that SE Asians are fairly brown, and Timorese are particularly brown.

    "I would not like to go on racist rampage against an extinct species or two"

    Now we're getting somewhere.

    "the people of 42,000 ago had deep water boating, but not navigation skills that they were confident of beyond sight of shore (about 30 miles give or take, and a bit more if shore has mountains on it)".

    That's probably basically correct, however once a new island had been discovered (often accidentally) they had the ability to find their way home and then back to the newly discovered island. Well, if they failed in either direction they would not have lived to tell the tale. History is composed by the survivors.

    "You ought to be able to catch those kinds of fish while still remaining within sight of land around Timor Island".

    True. And that's why I suggested that Australia's discovery was probably originally accidental from being blown out to sea.

    "There are wild dogs in Australia (dingos) but the Aborigines are less directly related (at least by haploid lineages) to the P and NO peoples of the second Eurasian wave than Papuans are".

    The dingo apparently entered Australia about the time of the Austronesian expansion, so was probably carried in by them. Of course the Austronesians themselves left no genetic evidence behind because, as Maju said, 'once a population density is achieved, any further crossing would surely be absorbed by the natives'. In other words, as Dienekes blogged a few weeks ago, the first in tend to dominate. At the time Maju disagreed that we could extend this idea to the Paleolithic though.

    "the haploid data of Australia and New Guinea talks of many founders, both in the Y-DNA and mtDNA sides, even if I think that all arrived in a specific window of time (of maybe 20 Ka???) soon after the Eurasian demic explosions".

    Two at least. Under the 'first in most common' scenario I'd place Y-DNA C and mt-DNA N as first with Y-DNA K and mt-DNA M (perhaps with P) into a later group, which especially entered New Guinea and came to dominate there.

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  12. ... "coastal foraging is quite possible without boats of any kind"...

    Possible maybe but effectively practical nope.

    If you live off the coast and at the coast, you want to be able to cross a bay or a swamp or a estuary or to reach a not so distant island or to take advantage of the waterways for mobility. Exploiting the coast (or rivers or other water-rich environments) creates boats.

    What's the point of you coming once and again to repeat the same belief of yours knowing that I and so many others disagree in such an irreducible way?

    "the people of 42,000 ago had deep water boating, but not navigation skills that they were confident of beyond sight of shore"

    How do you know? I think you are too arrogant about what the people like you and me knew back then. You need just some basic astronomy to sail offshore on clear days, I've seen many row boaters (in Madagascar or Melanesia for instance) to do that: they are just so used to the Sea and confident on what they do that they go off sight of shore with all the family and what not. They use just rowing but they are very strongly built, such is their daily exercise.

    I'd be scared and physically unable of doing that but these people just know what they are doing and get it done. They live almost "on the sea" with a mere canoe (of course they sleep on shore).

    "You've obviously failed to notice that SE Asians are fairly brown, and Timorese are particularly brown".

    Precisely. That's why they could not have lived in Siberia, where they would have needed to lose their dark pigmentation (and once lost you don't regain it in thousands of years, as the Native American example shows very clearly).

    "At the time Maju disagreed that we could extend this idea to the Paleolithic though".

    I just don't like the way you make the analogies nor that the evidence collected was fully valid. After all the first people of Quebec were not from France.

    I disagree with the way you manipulate the data, with the way you want to jump from a study of surnames in Quebec to a totally different reality.

    You like to make false analogies, what is like assuming that just because both are transparent odorless liquids, battery acid will quench my thirst as well as water.

    Careful.

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  13. "Exploiting the coast (or rivers or other water-rich environments) creates boats".

    Perhaps so eventually, but possession of boats is hardly a prererquisite.

    "knowing that I and so many others disagree in such an irreducible way?"

    Because your disagreement is completely irrational.

    "How do you know? I think you are too arrogant about what the people like you and me knew back then".

    You fail to accept that people have accumulated a huge amount of collective knowledge since the Paleolithic. You seem to believe that Paleolithic humans knew about, and could already solve, quadratic equations.

    "You need just some basic astronomy to sail offshore on clear days"

    But that is inadequate over any sort of long distance. If it was a simple as that how would you explain why it took so long for humans to venture beyond the Northern Solomon Islands.

    "they are just so used to the Sea and confident on what they do that they go off sight of shore with all the family and what not".

    They can travel with reasonable competence north, south, east or west for a few hours, or even days, for example but ocean currents make your method completely unreliable over any sort of meaningful distance.

    "That's why they could not have lived in Siberia, where they would have needed to lose their dark pigmentation"

    Many people who live in Siberia today could hardly be said to have lost their dark pigmentation. How long would they have to stay there before they lose it? Anyway, you have still failed to show that I am racist in any way.

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  14. "You seem to believe that Paleolithic humans knew about, and could already solve, quadratic equations".

    Quadratic equations don't seem to be relevant, nor anything that could be truly important before the industrial era. It is only in the 7th century CE when quadratic equations were more or less consolidated in India (and then popularized and formalized by Central Asian mathematician Al Khwarizmi, who gives names to the word 'algorithm').

    This kind of absurd extrapolation: "no quadratic equations hence no brains at all", is typical of civilizationist arrogance, which I spite on. You don't need to be able tow read and write, much less complex mathematics, in order to build or manage a boat, in fact most boat-makers ever were illiterate, as were most sailors - yet they were good at their trade.

    "But that is inadequate over any sort of long distance".

    I think we estimated that the longest distance would be 80km (though at Timor it may well have been 100-120km), some 50 nautical miles (60 or even 70). According to this site, an expert rower (no wind) can pull a canoe at 3 knots (mph), making some 14-18 miles per day. It is indeed a long journey for a rower on a canoe.

    So, yes, the people who made the journey to Australia must have been quite advanced seafarers (unless you consider it the random product of tsunamis and storms, what I find rather unlikely because people would have been thrown ashore alone and died easily).

    "... but ocean currents make your method completely unreliable over any sort of meaningful distance".

    Hmmm... if you're a mariner, you know your local currents.

    "Many people who live in Siberia today could hardly be said to have lost their dark pigmentation".

    Siberian blacks? Are you serious? That would be unexpectedly funny.

    All people of high latitudes are quite white, even if often they tan because of the reflective effect of the snow (sure Siberia is not as dark as cloudy NW Europe, hardly anywhere on Earth is). People of East Asian stock are not as light skinned (everything else equal) as people of West Eurasian stock but that's again because of different evolutionary pathways towards depigmentation and optimal vitamin D synthesis, which is yet another argument in favor of a U shaped colonization of Eurasia by two different routes from the Tropics.

    "Anyway, you have still failed to show that I am racist in any way".

    I don't want to insist on that but I'm quite certain that you are prejudiced against Tropical peoples in general and Indians in particular.

    Whatever the case, the old walk-through-Siberia conjecture was not just a clear case of intellectual laziness and short-sightedness but also catered on the wrong idea that the peoples of the North, the "civilized" (???) Europeans and Chinese/Japanese were of a single stock and somehow "superior" to the peoples of the South, such as the "barbaric" (???) Egyptians, Persians, Indians and Khmers - not to mention tribal "Australoids" (catch-all nonsense word for extreme diversity).

    All those ideas are wrong, and not just the wacko racial and way-too-often racist notions: the idea that people scattered through Eurasia via a "northern route" (which was occupied by Neanderthals and "Denisovans" in fact) is totally wrong and has absolutely no evidence at all that can support it. It was a bad, ideological, idea since the very beginning: a Piltdown Man of sorts (Piltdown Man also hindered serious research for decades and fed its fame on ethnocentric and racist prejudices).

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  15. Notice that, while adult Siberians and Mongols are often slightly tanned, young ones are typically whiter and all tend to have very marked rosy cheeks (more examples, and more...), a clear extra element in the process of depigmentation, evolved in the context of the use of heavy clothing.

    Just because they don't normally have blond or red hair, it does not mean that they are not very white in their own way.

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  16. "'no quadratic equations hence no brains at all', is typical of civilizationist arrogance, which I spite on".

    You misrepresent my point entirely. I have no doubt at all that if Uppre Paleolithic humans could somehow have been exposed to quadratic equations they would have had the mantal capacity to solve them. It's just that they hadn't thought of the concept, just as they're unlikley to have thought of the concept of timber houses or dugout canoes.

    "So, yes, the people who made the journey to Australia must have been quite advanced seafarers".

    They don't actually have to possessed particularly sophisticated navigation techniques however. Just reasonable paddlers with a sense of east and west (not too difficult). By the time people were using boats for fishing at Timor we can be fairly sure they had become spread through much of Nusa Tenggara, possibly as far east as Maluku and west as far as Lombok, or even further into mainland SE Asia. That gives quite a stretch of islands to aim for if wishing to return northwest from Australia. And Australia provides quite a long stretch to aim for when on a return trip. Y-DNA distribution fits the scenario. Y-DNA C2 is particularly common in South Wallacea. Y-DNA C4 is Australian. Much of the Y-DNA around the South China Sea is C*, perhaps an as yet to be defined single haplogroup.

    "Hmmm... if you're a mariner, you know your Hmmm... if you're a mariner, you know your local currents.

    Maju, we're hardly talking 'local currents' here. Currents cannot be described as 'local' until you've lived in aregion for at least a period of time. You cannot know the currents until you've been there (and back).

    "I don't want to insist on that but I'm quite certain that you are prejudiced against Tropical peoples in general and Indians in particular".

    On what do you base that statement? I'm certainly not prejudiced against quite black Australian Aborigines, Melanesians or dark SE Asians. The only reason you claim I'm prejudiced against Indians is because I don't accept your dogma that every human ancestor passed through there at some stage. Hardly a sound basis for accustaions of 'racism'.

    "catered on the wrong idea that the peoples of the North, the 'civilized' (???) Europeans and Chinese/Japanese were of a single stock and somehow 'superior' to the peoples of the South, such as the 'barbaric' (???) Egyptians, Persians, Indians and Khmers - not to mention tribal 'Australoids'".

    I suspect that is a case of projection. You're reflecting your own prejudices.

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