23,000-year-old fish hooks found in Japan

The world's oldest fish hooks were discovered in Sakitari Cave in Okinawa, Japan.

Story highlights

  • World's oldest fish hooks were made from sea snail shells
  • The hooks suggest fishing technology developed much earlier than previously thought

(CNN)They could almost pass for a pair of ancient earrings.

But instead, researchers have discovered the world's oldest fish hooks. And it's led them to suggest that maritime technology developed in Asia-Pacific much earlier than previously thought.
In a study published in the journal PNAS, the researchers describe how the 23,000-year-old fish hooks, found in Sakitari Cave in the southern end of Okinawa Island in Japan, were meticulously shaped out of sea snail shells.
    Researchers excavate Sakitari cave.
    They are believed to be older than fish hooks found in Timor, dating back 16,000 years and ones found in Papua New Guinea, dating back 18,000 years.

    The 'most delicious' crabs

    It was previously thought that early humans would have had difficulty surviving for long periods of time on what was considered a resource poor island. However, the fish hooks were unearthed among other artifacts including beads and tools, as well as charred frogs, birds and eels, which our ancestors would have eaten.
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    The discovery of freshwater crab residues, which would have been captured and consumed in autumn when they were at "their most delicious" suggest how early humans even had a fancy for seasonal delicacies, according to the researchers.
    They conclude that all this material evidence suggests that humans could have lived on Okinawa for some 35,000 years.

    The mystery around fishing technology

    The Sakitari cave excavation site also leads onto a public cafe.
    Masaki Fujita, study co-author and curator at Okinawa Prefectural and Art Museum, explained that maritime technology was key in allowing humans to disperse across the world.
    Fujita told CNN that humans are believed to have first crossed into Australia some 50,000 years ago, but that, until now, evidence of human maritime adaptation was only reported from Australia to Wallacea -- a group of mainly Indonesian islands.
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    "Our findings suggest that Paleolithic people had adapted their maritime technologies to live not only in Wallacea and Australia, but a much wider geographic zone," said Fujita.
    Next up, the researchers hope to shed light on some older remains they found while excavating.
    "We found fish and human bones that dated back some 30,000 to 35,000 years," Fujita said.
    "We don't know what kind of tools were used to catch these fish, but we're hoping to find some even older fishing tools."