A study of global cultures that have been nurtured by the wealth from the sea.
In this gently scholarly, elegant examination of fishing peoples from the Neanderthals to modern times, Fagan (Emeritus, Archaeology/Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels, 2013, etc.) defies the Darwinian stereotypes of fishing cultures as simple or primitive. Global warming at the end of the last Ice Age, some 15,000 years ago, compounded the problems created by rising sea levels and led to the inundation of coasts, the creation of ponds and shallows, and flourishing fish populations. Fishers do not have the same cachet as hunters and farmers, but as the seas swelled, “subsistence fishing came into its own.” This necessitated the invention of new tools specifically for the endeavor, and many of these have changed surprisingly little over the centuries. Fagan proceeds chronologically, focusing in each chapter on different fishing cultures and the kinds of fish they caught, such as the canny clan of Pinnacle Point Cave, South Africa, who, more than 160,000 years ago, were attracted by the plentiful mollusks in local tide pools. While Neanderthals were big-game hunters, their diet also included a great deal of salmon. From 8000 to 2000 B.C.E., the area from the Danube to the Baltic Sea supported dense human settlements with a strong preference for marine foods—e.g., the Iron Gates peoples, who hunted the mighty sturgeon. In Scandinavia during this time, fermentation was implemented to preserve fish during cold winter months, while in the Nile delta, fish were used as the rations for the laborers to build the state. Fagan also discusses the Jomon of northern Japan, the Aleuts in Alaska and other societies in the Northwest, the Calusa Indians of Florida, and early cultures in both the Mediterranean and China, providing a compelling picture of how fishing was so integral in each society’s development.
A multilayered, nuanced tour of “fishing societies throughout the world” and across millennia.