The next time you drop a line in the water off the side of a boat equipped with the latest sonar devices, dig into the cooler beside your feet for a favourite beverage and kick your feet up to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing.
Fishing is one of the oldest activities known to man. Archaeologists have found ancient dumps of shell and bone, cave paintings depicting fishing and even hooks made from bone. There is even a theory that states we might be closer to the fish we try and catch than we think. The “Aquatic Ape Hypothesis” contends that human beings spent a time living by and catching their food from the shallows of lakes and oceans. The controversial theory contends years of living that helped us to look different from the apes and chimpanzees thought by some to be our ancestors because of this time evolving by water.
The ancient river Nile was an angler’s paradise. The Egyptians relied on fresh and dried fish as a staple in their diets, and the various methods they used have been well represented in many ancient representations from their lives. Although they had some tools like nets, baskets and even hooks and lines, the fish caught were often clubbed to death. Perch, catfish and eels were among the most important catches in the Egyptian times.
The other bed of civilization, Greece, did not share Egypt’s love of fishing. Still, there is a depiction on a wine cup from 500 BC that shows a boy kneeling over a stream with a live capture net in the water below him. It’s unclear why the boy was ‘fishing’ however, since the device is clearly for live capture. There is also evidence the Romans fished with nets and tridents off the sides of boats. One of their most famous Gods, Neptune, is depicted usually with a fishing trident. There are references to fishing in the Bible, too.
Perhaps the most recognizable tool for fishing is the hook. No one knows for certain, but it’s quite probable prehistoric man was using some form of a hook over 40,000 years ago. Experts have had some problems pinning down exact dates since they know most of the materials used back then were most likely wood and not very durable. British Isle anglers catch fish with hooks made from the hawthorn bush, right up to the present day. Although Stone Age man had the tools necessary for making bone hooks, it is hard for scientists to get exact dates since bone does not define its age well. The oldest known hooks have turned up in Czechoslovakia, but others have turned up in Egypt and Palestine. The Palestinian hooks are believed to be over 9,000 years old, proving that fishing has been around for a very long time indeed.
Indians on Easter Island made their hooks from a gruesome material. Since human sacrifices were abundant in the area for some time, the natives made their fish hooks out of the most plentiful material around – human bone. Fish hooks made of human bone were the norm there until missionaries arrived at the turn of the last century. In addition to hooks made of stone, bone or wood, ancient man often combined material to make composite hooks with barbs that kept the bait on.