Mariana Islands octopus lures are the oldest in the world – Eurasia Review

An archaeological study has determined that the cowrie artifacts found in the Mariana Islands were decoys used to hunt octopuses and that the devices, similar versions of which have been found on islands in the Pacific, are the oldest known artifacts of their kind. in the world. .

The study used carbon dating of archaeological layers to confirm that decoys found on the Northern Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan dated to around 1500 BC, or 3500 years ago.

“It goes back to when people first lived in the Mariana Islands. So we believe they may be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world,” said Michael T. Carson, an archaeologist at the Micronesian Area Research Center in the United States. University of Guam.

The study, titled “Catching Octopuses for Dinner: Ancient Inventions of Octopus Lures in the Mariana Islands of the Remote Tropical Pacific,” is published in World archeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Carson, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, is the study’s lead author, assisted by Hsiao-chun Hung of the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

Fishing gear was made from cowries, a type of sea snail and a favorite food of octopuses, which were attached by a fiber rope to a stone sinker and hook.

They have been found at seven sites in the Mariana Islands. The oldest decoys were discovered in 2011 at Sanhalom near the House of Taga in Tinian and in 2016 at Unai Bapot in Saipan. Other sites include Achugao in Saipan, Unai Chulu in Tinian and Mochom at Mangilao Golf Course, Tarague Beach and Ritidian Beach Cave in Guam.

Known artifacts, unknown purpose – so far

“The artifacts were known – we knew them. It just took a long time to look at the possibilities, the different hypotheses, of what they might be,” Carson said. “The conventional idea – what we were told long ago from the Bishop Museum [in Honolulu] – was that these had to be for scraping breadfruit or other plants, like perhaps taro. [But] they don’t look like that.

The shells lacked the serrated edge of other known food scraping tools. With their holes and grooves where the fiber cord would have been attached as well as the stone sinker components, they seemed closer to the octopus lures found in Tonga around 3,000 years ago, or 1,100 BC.

“We’re convinced these are pieces of octopus lures, and we’re confident they date back to 1500 BC,” Carson said.

An invention of ancient Chamorus?

Carson said the question now becomes: Did the ancient Chamoru people invent this adaptation to their environment when they first lived on the islands? »

That’s one possibility, he said, the other being that they brought the tradition with them from their ancient homeland; however, no such artifacts have yet been discovered in the potential homelands of early Marianas settlers.

If the CHamoru people invented the first octopus lures, it gives new insight into their ingenuity and problem-solving ability – having to create new and specialized ways of living in a new environment and enjoying a source of food available.

“It tells us that […] this type of food resource was important enough to them that they invented something very particular to trap these foods,” Carson said. “We can’t say it contributed a massive percentage of their diet – it probably doesn’t – but it was significant enough that it became what we would call a ‘tradition’ in archaeology.”

The next question to consider, Carson said, is whether similar objects exist elsewhere from earlier times.

“From a pure archeology perspective, knowing the oldest of something is always important, because then you can track how things have changed over time,” he said. “[…] The only other place that would be in the overseas region for the first inhabitants of CHamoru moving to the Marianas. So we would be looking in the islands of Southeast Asia and Taiwan for these finds.

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