Archaeologists in southern Denmark have found evidence showing that Stone Age people fished eels much like modern people, using three-pronged spears with a center point for spearing fish.
The clue, a fragmented fishing spear, known as a leister, was unearthed during an archaeological survey for the construction of the Femern Belt link, an immersed tunnel that will connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland.
"It was found obliquely embedded in the seafloor and must have been lost during fishing at some point in the Neolithic," Line Marie Olesen, archaeologist at the Museum Lolland-Falster, told Discovery News.
"The finding is remarkable as it shows both lateral prongs in doubtless association with a central bone point," she added.
The association between lateral prongs and bone point has long been presumed, but until now was never documented.
"In the past only a large number of individual leister prongs and bone points was found," Søren Anker Sørensen, an archaeologist specializing in mesolithic research, said.
A relatively well preserved spear, where parts of both of the lateral prongs had been preserved along with a piece of the shaft to which it was tied, was first discovered on the Danish Baltic Sea island of Ærø by diving amateur archaeologists some 40 years ago. But the piece did not have a centered point, as in modern spears.
Thus archaeologists have long wondered whether prehistoric fishing spears could work without such a point.
The new find provided the answer. Although the string winding and the shaft were missing, the position of spear's prongs and bone point in relation to each other indicated they belonged to the same spear that had broken off.
"It tells us, that in some cases at least, the leisters were equipped with a bone point much like present day eel leisters, which implies that the fishing of eel in that respect has not changed much," Olesen said.
Olesen and colleagues are now trying to precisely date the fishing tool.
"We have not yet obtained a radio carbon date of the leister. It could be middle Neolithic or late Neolithic alike and maybe even younger. From one of the other sites in the lagoon we have an individual leister prong, which is dated to the late Neolithic," Olesen said.