PAGE 2 CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
FISHHOOKS
NORTH AMERICA & AROUND THE WORLD
10,000 YEARS AGO TO PRESENT DAY
PAGE 2 OF 2 PAGES
COPYRIGHT MARCH 31, 2009 PETER A. BOSTROM
Abstract image, fishhooks & Pacific Ocean and island.
ABSTRACT IMAGE OF FISHHOOKS & OCEAN

    Composite v-shaped hooks are the most complex of all the fishhooks. They are two piece hooks that have a shank with a sharpened spike set into it at approximately a 45 degree angle. In North America, these types of hooks have been found on sites in Florida and Alaska.

Stone & bone fishhooks from Easter Island.
COMPUTERIZED IMAGE FROM DENNIS VESPER PHOTOGRAPHS FROM
THE FONCK MUSEUM IN VINA DEL MAR, CHILE AND PRIVATE COLLECTIONS

FISHHOOKS
STONE & HUMAN BONE
EASTER ISLAND

     The Easter Islander's made their fishhooks out of bone, stone and wood. All of the fishhooks in this picture are made of stone except for the third hook in the top row which is made of human bone.
    The bottom row shows the various stages of manufacture of a stone fishhook. Stone fishhooks were made by first selecting a suitable piece of stone. Then shaping it into a rough outline of the intended fishhook by rough flaking, grinding and polishing. A large hole was next drilled from both sides with the use of a stone bit and water and sand as the grinding agent. Heyerdahl reports that for some unknown reason some of the holes are drilled at a 60 to 70 degree angle instead of right angles. The fishhook is further finished by grinding and polishing.
   Some authors describe stone fishhooks as ceremonial objects but Heyerdahl described them as utilitarian fishhooks that were used to catch fish. He gives the measurements of one large stone hook as 5 1/2 inches (14 cm) long and 4 3/16 inches (10.6 cm) wide.

     Halibut hooks are even more complex. These large composite fishhooks are both u and v-shaped. They were developed by Northwest coast Indians to catch large bottom-feeding halibut. The line was attached to the center of the shank instead of the end, like most fishhooks.

Petroglyphs from Easter Island, Tuna and fishhook.
IMAGE FROM DENNIS VESPER PHOTOGRAPH
PETROGLYPHS
TUNA & FISHHOOK
EASTER ISLAND

     The two petroglyphs in this picture are from Easter Island. They are both related to the early history of fishing on the island. The large fish is approximately three feet long and represents a tuna. The small inset image at lower right is from another boulder. It measures about 8 inches (20.3 cm) long and it represents a fishhook.

     Fishermen made their fishhooks from almost every type of raw material. Sometimes from necessity and not by choice. One extreme example is found on Easter Island where human bone, stone and wood was used to make fishhooks. They didn't have much of a variety of raw materials to choose from. If they did they may have replace their stone fishhooks in favor of something else. Bone was probably the most commonly used material. Turkey and deer bone are two of the most commonly used materials. The toe bones of deer were used to make small hooks and larger hooks were made from the long bones. The baculum bone from raccoon is also reported from composite fishhooks found in Florida.

Fishhook stages of manufacture, deer toe bones.
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
FISHHOOKS
STAGES-OF-MANUFACTURE
DEER TOE BONE
KENTUCKY

   Many archaeological sites in the southeastern U.S. have produced fishhooks made from deer toe bones. This picture shows a few examples of the different stages of manufacture. All of these bone artifacts were found in Kentucky along the Ohio River. The first bone was evidently struck to break it open. The next three pieces were cut and ground to further shape the bone. The final step would sharpen a point and grind and polish the surface.

    The most exotic bone that was used to make fishhooks is human bone. Easter Island and other Pacific islands have reported finds of fishhooks made of human bone. Heyerdahl describes pieces of worked human bone from a cave site, "Twenty-three pieces of human bone display evidence of cutting and/or polishing on one or more surfaces. Twelve may be blanks for manufacturing fishhooks." From a ceremonial cremation site he also reports, "There are 41 fragments of bone fishhooks---. Materials are mammalian long bones, probably human---." Also from a house site he reports, "Nine pieces of human bone, exhibiting cutting along one or both ends and sides, were found. These undoubtedly represent pieces discarded in the process of the manufacture of bone fishhooks."

Fishhook stages of manufacture, large deer bones.
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
FISHHOOKS
STAGES-OF-MANUFACTURE
DEER LONG BONE
AUCILLA RIVER FLORIDA

    All of the bone artifacts in this picture were found in the Aucilla River in Florida. Three different types of fishhooks are represented. The bottom row illustrates two different styles of fishhooks. The two examples on the left show the long bone from which a hook could be made and a similar size bone that is nearing completion as a finished fishhook. The two examples on the right show a slightly different style of fishhook as it appears in a late stage of manufacture. The fishhook at bottom right measures 2 inches (5 cm) long.

     Stone is probably the rarest material that was used to make fishhooks. No archaeological site in North America has ever produced a stone fishhook manufacturing industry. There have been finds of hooked pieces that may look like a fishhook but they are singular discoveries that never have any accompanying manufacturing debris. But there are very large numbers of modern-made fishhooks. Heyerdahl even refers to these North American examples in one of his books by mistake but mentions early examples of "clever counterfeits" from Easter Island. The early Easter Islander's did make very finely crafted stone fishhooks. Heyerdahl writes that, "Due to their unique form and exquisite workmanship, the beautiful Easter Island stone fishhooks have been frequently mentioned and illustrated as outstanding samples of primitive art."

Fishhook stages of manufacture, turkey bones.
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGER IMAGE
FISHHOOKS
STAGES-OF-MANUFACTURE
TURKEY BONE
KENTUCKY

    This picture shows the stages of manufacture of a small and delicate turkey bone fishhook. The leg bone of a turkey was split and ground down to the width of the intended size of the hook. Then the center of the bone was removed. After the two narrow sides were cut apart the process produces two fishhooks. The hook was then finished by sharpening the point and grinding and polishing the surface. All of these bone artifacts were found on one site in Kentucky near the Ohio River. The fishhook on the right measures 1 3/4 inches (4.4 cm) long.

     Fishhooks have also been made from wood, shell, ivory, cactus spines, palm spines, copper and bronze. Most ancient fishhooks were made from organic materials that decay unless they are found in such places as frozen ground, dry caves or Florida rivers. So it's difficult to know how many were being used by ancient cultures. On-the-other-hand, metal and stone fishhooks have survived. Bronze Age fishhooks in Europe were being made at least 3,000 years ago. Copper fishhooks from the Old Copper Culture in the Great Lakes area of North America, date to at least 6,000 years ago.

3 different types bronze fishhooks from Switzerland.
COMPUTERIZED IMAGE FROM 1883 "THE PRIMITIVE FISHHOOK,"
FROM THE CENTURY ILLUSTRATED MONTHLY MAGAZINE, VOL. XXV, NO. 6

FISHHOOKS
BRONZE
SWITZERLAND

    These three fishhooks were collected on a Lake Dweller site in Switzerland. They are made of Bronze and date to the Bronze age approximately 3,000 years ago. The two examples at top illustrate different forms of gorges. To catch a fish with these hooks the fish would need to swallow it. The lower example is a double fishhook that should have been very effective at catching a fish.

    Archaeologists have speculated about how some similarly designed fishhooks were developed within different cultures that were separated by great distances.  For instance, the single piece circular or curved shell fishhook is found archaeologically in Oceania, Ecuador, southern Peru, northern Chile and in southern California around Santa Barbara. Landberg suggests that fish were the trans-Pacific carriers of this particular design of fishhook. This theory originates from tag release and recovery data that show that three species of tuna are capable of long range migrations. Fishermen located many thousands of miles apart may have been retrieving foreign fishhooks from the stomachs of freshly caught fish.

Outrigger canoe on the shore of Samoa in Pacific Ocean.
OUTRIGGER CANOE
SAMOA
PACIFIC OCEAN

    An outrigger canoe on a Samoa island beach in the Pacific Ocean. Outrigger canoes were originally developed by the Austronesian speaking peoples of the islands of Southeast Asia for sea travel. When Magellan's ships first encountered the Mariana Island sailboats in 1521 they recorded in their ships logs that the islander's boats far surpassed Magellan's in speed and maneuverability. Their techniques for fishing were also undoubtedly just as advanced.

 

      Authors could write volumes of books about fishhooks. They have such a great depth of time in the archaeological record. It would be fascinating to see a map of the world with the designs and the precise dates of the first use of a fishhook in each area. To know how many times such a simple tool was separately invented would provide an extraordinary insight into the process of human development.

"REFERENCES"

1883, Phillips, Barnet, "The Primitive Fishhook," The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, Vol. XXV, No. 6, pp. 901.
1899
, Nelson, Edward William, "The Eskimo About The Bering Strait," Eighteenth Annual Report Of The Bureau Of American Ethnology, p. 178.
1912
, Hodge, Frederick Webb, "Handbook Of American Indians North Of Mexico, Vol. 1," pp. 460-461.
1917
, Petrie, W. M. Flinders "Tools And Weapons, ---Egyptian Collection In University College, London," p. 37.
1926
, Hose, Charles, "Natural Man, A Record From Borneo," p. 100.
1948
, Steward, Julian H., & various authors, "Handbook Of South American Indian, Vol. 3," Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 143, pp. 324, 413, 442, 488, 602, 828 & 870.
1961
, Heyerdahl, Thor, "Archaeology Of Easter Island, Vol. 1," pp.158, 268, 284, 415-438.
1963
, Miles, Charles, "Indian And Eskimo Artifacts Of North America," p. 43.
1962
, Clark, Grahame, "Prehistoric England," p. 39.
1966
, Landberg, Leif C., "Tuna Tagging And The Extra-Oceanic Distribution Of Curved, Single-Piece Shell Fishhooks In The Pacific," American Antiquity, Vol. 31, No. 4, April, pp. 485-493.
1976
, Kroeber, Theodora "Ishi In Two Worlds, A biography Of The Last Wild Indian In North America, p. 194.
1982
, Aikens, C. Melvin and Higuchi, Takayasu, "The Jomon Period," Prehistory Of Japan, pp. 120 & 157.
1983
, Kraft, Herbert C. & DeCicco, Gabriel, "The Search For Humanity's Roots," p. 62.
1994
, Brown, Robin C., "Florida's First People, 12,000 Years Of Human History," pp. 136-137.
1999, Mulvaney, John and Kamminga, Johan, "Prehistory of Australia," p. 263.
2009, Tatum, Jim, "A New Bone Artifacts From Florida," (To be published in 2009 July issue of the Central States Archaeological Journal.
2009, Vesper, Dennis, Personal Communication.
2009, Some artifacts from the Wager's family collection.

RECENT LISTINGS    HOME    ORDERING