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Man has been fishing for octopuses for at least 3,500 years

The study determined that cowrie-shell artifacts found throughout the Mariana Islands were lures used for hunting octopuses.


Funny blue eyed seaman holds big octopus and smoking pipe, leads seafaring life, dressed in sailor clothes, poses against vivid yellow background, spends long period at sea. Sailing, boating
(Cast Of Thousands via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Man has been fishing for octopuses for at least 3,500 years, reveals new research.

Octopus lures discovered off the Mariana Islands in the Pacific have been dated to around 1500 BC, making them the oldest of their kind in the world.

The study has determined that cowrie-shell artifacts found throughout the Mariana Islands were lures used for hunting the mollusks.

Archaeologists used carbon dating to confirm that the lures discovered on the Northern Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan were from about 1500 BC.

Study lead author Dr. Michael Carson said: "That’s back to the time when people were first living in the Mariana Islands.

"So we think these could be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world,”

He said that the fishing devices were made with cowrie shells, a type of sea snail and a favorite food of octopuses, that were connected by a fiber cord to a stone sinker and a hook.

They have been found in seven sites in the Mariana Islands. The oldest lures were excavated in 2011 from Sanhalom near the House of Taga in Tinian and in 2016 from Unai Bapot in Saipan.

Carson, an archaeologist at the University of Guam, said: “The artifacts have been known - we knew about them.

"It just took a long time considering the possibilities, the different hypotheses, of what they could be.

“The conventional idea - what we were told long ago from the Bishop Museum in Honolulu - was that these must be for scraping breadfruit or other plants, like maybe taro. They don’t look like that.”

He explained that the shells didn’t have 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 appeared a closer match to octopus lures found in Tonga from about 1100 B.C.

Carson said: “We’re confident they are the pieces of octopus lures, and we’re confident they date back to 1500 BC."

He said that it's possible that the ancient CHamoru people invented the adaptation to their environment during the time when they first lived in the islands. The other is that they brought the tradition with them from their former homeland.

However, no artifacts of this kind have yet been discovered in the potential homelands of the first Marianas settlers.

Carson said: "It tells us that this kind of food resource was important enough for them that they invented something very particular to trap these foods.

“We can’t say that it contributed to a massive percentage of their diet - it probably did not - but it was important enough that it became what we would call a ‘tradition’ in archaeology.”

He added: “Purely from an archaeology standpoint, knowing the oldest of something is always important - because then you can track how things change through time.

"The only other place that would be is in the overseas homeland area for the first CHamoru people moving to the Marianas. So we would look in islands in South East Asia and Taiwan for those findings.”

The findings were published in the journal World Archaeology.

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