Research Article: Opportunism or aquatic specialization? Evidence of freshwater fish exploitation at Ohalo II- A waterlogged Upper Paleolithic site

Date Published: June 18, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Irit Zohar, Tamar Dayan, Menachem Goren, Dani Nadel, Israel Hershkovitz, Karen Hardy.


Analysis of ca. 17,000 fish remains recovered from the late Upper Paleolithic/early Epi-Paleolithic (LGM; 23,000 BP) waterlogged site of Ohalo II (Rift Valley, Israel) provides new insights into the role of wetland habitats and the fish inhabiting them during the evolution of economic strategies prior to the agricultural evolution. Of the current 19 native fish species in Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), eight species were identified at Ohalo II, belonging to two freshwater families: Cyprinidae (carps) and Cichlidae (St. Peter fish). Employing a large set of quantitative and qualitative criteria (NISP, species richness, diversity, skeletal element representation, fragmentation, color, spatial distribution, etc.), we demonstrate that the inhabitants of Ohalo II used their knowledge of the breeding behavior of different species of fish, for year-round intensive exploitation.

Partial Text

The contribution of small game species to the human diet is recognized since the Middle Paleolithic [1–7]. It is therefore surprising that the contribution of fish has generally been ignored, as in terms of food distribution, diversification, intensification, dietary costs, and benefits, the aquatic fauna presents a high diversity of abundant and easily collected food that in many cases does not require specialization and produces high return rates [8–11]. The notion that “…the use of fish in the Middle Paleolithic was, at best, very scanty” [12]; p.335), has led to the incorrect conclusion that fish exploitation became a major activity only during the Upper Paleolithic, mainly towards the Terminal Pleistocene and early Holocene (ca. 12 ka BP). Two major causes have been suggested for the intensified exploitation of aquatic resources: 1) a decrease in hunting options for coastal groups; and 2) the need for alternative sources of proteins and calories [12]. This is questionable, however, as unlike marine resources, there is evidence to suggest that freshwater resources had been exploited since the Early Pleistocene, i.e., 1.95 mya [1, 13–17].

Recent zooarchaeological and isotopic studies have indicated a sharp shift in the role of aquatic resources in the diet and economy of ancient populations since the mid-Upper Paleolithic [1, 5, 108–110]. The present study provides solid data indicating that the diet breadth during the Upper Paleolithic was broader than has been previously assumed, and that freshwater fish were an important dietary component.

Upper Paleolithic economies are characterized by a sharp increase in the exploitation of diverse small-sized animals [2, 4–6, 162–164]. Although fish are listed among these low-ranked species, to the best of our knowledge no large-scale study has been conducted on the role of fish during this period [15, 115]. The role of fish exploitation may consequently have been largely underestimated, with fishing having been incorrectly attributed to periods of economic stress following a dearth of the more traditional food items.




0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments