Friday, May 21, 2010

Prehistoric Fish Hooks

It’s late May, and the fishing season here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere is in full swing. It’s also convenient inspiration for the featured artifact in this week’s entry, the carved bone fish hook.

Perhaps the most essential tool in an angler’s kit, the fishing hook has been around for centuries. A limited search through the State Museum’s holdings reveal numerous examples of carved bone hooks from prehistoric sites in at least a half a dozen counties across the state including Greene, Centre and Fayette, among others.

In the technology section of the State Museum’s Anthropology and Archaeology gallery, a portion of the animial products exhibit showcases the progression of the carving process involved in fashioning a deer phalange, or toe, into a hook suitable for fishing. The five specimens on display and seen here were all excavated from the Schultz site (36La7) in Lancaster County.
In rare instances where a high degree of organic preservation has taken place, fragments of cordage used to make fishing nets have been recovered, such as those from Sheep Rockshelter in Huntington County, which unfortunately is now submerged under Raystown Lake, itself a destination for modern sport fishing enthusiasts.

While fish stories both new and old abound, it’s no fish tale to say these surviving artifacts and others, like the more commonly found chipped stone net sinker, speak to the longstanding and influential role riverine and aquatic resources have played in shaping subsistence strategies, settlement patterns, and more broadly, aspects of cultural identity.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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