A new study has revealed just how long Native Americans have been fishing. Researchers have found that the practice dates back as early as the Ice Age.
In a new study published in the journal PNAS on Sept. 21, researchers discovered the earliest evidence that during the Ice Age, the humans that lived in North America ate salmon for food countering the long-held idea that Paleoindians during the Ice Age were mainly big-game hunters.
Ben Potter, an anthropologist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and colleagues found ancient chum salmon bones from 11,500 years ago at the Upward Sun River site, where excavations also yielded human dwellings, human remains and tools.
Based on their analysis of the salmon bones, the researchers concluded that North American humans consume salmon for at least 11,500 years.
"We used ancient DNA analysis to identify the fish specimens as chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta), and stable isotope analysis to confirm that the salmon were anadromous (sea-run), the researchers wrote in their study. "The exploitation of salmon at this early date is noteworthy because Paleoindians are traditionally portrayed as big-game hunting specialists."
The research also suggests that salmon spawning runs were established at the end of the last Ice Age, or the Pleistocene epoch, or which is much earlier than earlier believed.
"We have cases where salmon become landlocked and have very different isotopic signatures than marine salmon," Potter said. "Combining genetic and isotopic analyses allow us to confirm the identity as chum salmon, which inhabit the area today, as well as establish their life histories."
The researcher added that these are crucial to understanding how humans tapped on these resources.
Salmon is a staple for native Alaskans but it was difficult to find evidence for the origins of salmon fishing because wood and rope fishing tools and even salmon bones decompose fast. Researchers likewise acknowledged that finding ancient salmon leftover was a challenge. The fish bones are fragile and small.
Besides providing evidence of salmon consumption during the last Ice Age, the findings also explain how North American humans managed to survive in an Arctic environment during the era and adapt to life on the new continent.
The result of the study shows that Beringian diets during the ancient times were more varied than previously believed and that Ice Age humans use specialized technology and tapped on complex strategy to get food.