Bone-bothering boffins have discovered that Man's taste for tuna sarnies may have developed a lot earlier than previously thought.
The archaeologists found the 42,000-year-old bones of tuna and sharks in a cave on East Timor near Australia, providing strong evidence that people were deep-sea fishing back then, according to their findings, published in Science.
Because early boats were made from wood and other not-very-long-lasting stuff, it has been tough for researchers to say for certain how early people were out shopping for sushi on the Earth's seas.
The fact that people lived on these islands as far back as 45,000 years ago is proof they had some method of crossing the ocean, but whether they could actually get around in some sort of boat, or they just drifted with the tide until they found land again, was a subject for hot historical debate.
“What the site in East Timor has shown us is that early modern humans in Island Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills. They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today – fish like tuna. It’s a very exciting find,” top bone-botherer Prof Sue O'Connor of Australian National University said in a canned statement.
She said the scientists couldn't be sure exactly how these humans were hauling in their catch, but it was clear that they were fishing well away from the land.
“Tuna can be caught in purse seines or leader nets, or by using hooks and trolling. Simple fish-aggregating devices such as tethered logs can also be used to attract them. So they may have been caught using hooks or nets. Either way it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore,” she added.
However, this discovery has by no means brought history-digging boffins to a consensus.
Archaeologist James O'Connell of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, who already supports the idea that deep-sea fishing started between 45,000 and 50,000 years ago, told Science that the new evidence "solidifies the case".
But William Keegan, an anthropologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said that the tuna found were relatively small, and that could mean they were young 'uns caught near the shore.
And Geoff Bailey, an archaeologist at Britain's University of York, argued that East Timor and the other islands in the area have very steep offshore topography, meaning that the deeper waters are actually very close to land. ®