Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


3 February 2016

Marine resources in the Early Neolithic of the Levant: their relevance to early seafaring

Daniella E. Bar-Yosef Mayer A.J. Ammerman & T. Davis (eds), Island Archaeology and the Origins of Seafaring in the Eastern Mediterranean, Eurasian Prehistory 10 (1-2) (2013): 83-98


Aquatic resources and especially molluscs and fish are encountered from the Lower Palaeolithic. In the Levant, shellfishing and the fishing of marine species began in the Early Natufian (ca. 15ka BP). Fish and mollusc exploitation before and during the Neolithic period, as proxies for interaction between humans and the marine environment, enhance our understanding of how and why Southwest Asian populations migrated to Cyprus. A survey of the fish exploited in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic periods reveals that they are mostly shallow-water, lagoonal, and brackish-water fish. Although larger fish and fish from deeper waters are not found in the Levant at these early times, they are recovered at later Neolithic sites in the Aegean Islands and on Cyprus.

During the PPNB in the Levant, there is little or no evidence for Mediterranean fishing. Instead, fish were obtained from the Nile River and the Red Sea. Thus, fish were a desired food, and this may hint at yet another motivation for exploring the seas. At the submerged Neolithic site of Atlit Yam, triggerfish may have been caught for a utilitarian purpose in addition to food consumption. Shellfishing in the Levant is not well attested, and if shell middens once existed, they are now submerged. But in other parts of the Mediterranean there is evidence for the collection of Patella and Osilinus, rocky shore species. They are present at coastal sites of Neolithic age on Cyprus and served as interim food after landfall and before terrestrial fauna and flora could be consumed. The familiarity of people living at coastal sites, which had marine environments close at hand offering sources of both food and raw materials, motivated and enabled early seafaring in that it assured the provision of food during voyages and immediately after landfall.



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