LOS ANGELES — Humans were expert deep-sea fishermen as far back as 42,000 years ago, hauling in tuna, sharks and barracudas, new research suggests.
Fish appeared in the human diet about 1.9 million years ago. Early catchers waded into freshwater lakes and streams without the need for boats or complex tools. It wasn't until later that humans decided to ply the ocean in search of fish.
The latest evidence comes from an excavation on the southeast Asian island of East Timor where remains of tuna and other deep-water fish were uncovered inside a cave. Using dating techniques, a team led by archaeologist Sue O'Connor of Australian National University determined the age to be 42,000 years old — making it the earliest evidence for ocean fishing.
The findings were reported in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
Since catching tuna and marine fish requires tools and advance planning, this meant people must have developed the mental and technological know-how to exploit the sea.
"It increases our insight into the developing abilities of early modern people," Eric Delson, an anthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York who had no role in the research, said in an email.
Early anglers probably fashioned boats by tying logs together and used nets and sharpened pieces of wood or shells as hooks, said Kathlyn Stewart, a research scientist at the Canadian Museum of Nature, who was not part of the study.
"These people were smart," she said. They knew "there were fish out there."
It's unclear how far the early mariners ventured. Once the bounty was caught, they likely ate it raw or went back to camp to cook it, Stewart said.
Along with the fish remains, researchers also unearthed fragments of fish hooks made out of bone from the same East Timor site including one that dated to between 16,000 and 23,000 years ago.
"The hooks were definitely used for ocean fishing, but we can't be sure which species," O'Connor said in an email.