Ancient jaws: 6,000-year-old copper fishhook, oldest in region, was likely for sharks

Archaeologists with the Israel Antiquity Authority (IAA) have found an ancient copper fishing hook — possibly for hunting sharks — in the Agamim neighborhood, Ashkelon, Israel.

The 6,000-year-old copper fish hook from Ashkelon, Israel. Image credit: Israel Antiquity Authority.

The 6,000-year-old copper fish hook from Ashkelon, Israel. Image credit: Israel Antiquity Authority.

The ancient fish hook, dating from about 6,000 years ago, is about 6.5 cm long and 4 cm wide.

“Its large dimensions make it suitable for hunting 2-3 m long sharks or large tuna fish,” said IAA archaeologists Dr. Yael Abadi-Reiss and Dr. Daniel Varga.

“More ancient fish hooks found previously were made of bone and were much smaller than this one.”

“The use of copper began in the Chalcolithic period,” they added.

“It is fascinating to discover that this technological innovation was applied in antiquity to produce fishhooks for fishermen along the Mediterranean coast.”6,000-Year-Old Fish Hook Found in Israel | Sci.News

In the Chalcolithic period, there were large villages around Ashkelon, whose economy was based on branches of agriculture still common today, such as the pasturing of sheep, goat, and cattle, the cultivation of wheat, barley, and legumes and the tending of fruit orchards.

“We learn about the dietary habits of the people who lived here 6,000 years ago from the remains of animal bones found in ancient rubbish pits, from burnt wheat grains found in ovens, and from the hunting, cooking, and food-processing tools retrieved, including flint sickles, and a variety of pottery vessels that served for the storage, cooking and the conservation of food by fermentation and salting,” Dr. Abadi-Reiss said.

“The rare fishhook tells the story of the village fishermen who sailed out to sea in their boats and cast the newly invented copper fishhook into the water, hoping to add coastal sharks to the menu.”

The ancient fish hook was exhibited in April 2023 at the 48th Archaeological Congress of the IAA.

“We are very excited that the IAA will host the Congress participants in the new home of Israel archaeology — the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein National Campus for the Archaeology of Israel in Givat Ram, Jerusalem,” said IAA director Eli Escusido.

“A modern visitors’ center will be set up for the general public, enabling a glimpse behind the scenes of the extensive archaeological activity in Israel and a view of some of the wonderful treasures that come to light from underground.”