Old Woman and the Sea


March/April 2018

Trenches Indonesia Alor Burial FishhooksIn a rock shelter on Indonesia’s Alor Island, just north of Timor, archaeologists have discovered five fishhooks buried with a person who died around 12,000 years ago. The hooks, made from sea snail shells, were placed under the chin and around the jaw. It is rare to uncover burials from this period that include grave goods of any type, and this is the oldest known instance of a burial with fishhooks to have been found anywhere in the world. The researchers believe the deceased was a woman based on the slenderness of the cranium, though they cannot be completely sure as they have not yet excavated the pelvis. “Given how rare grave goods are from the time,” says Sue O’Connor of Australian National University, “that this woman of mature age was buried with a cache of fishhooks suggests that she was a fisherperson of some renown or prestige.” Four of the five hooks are of the circular rotating style thought to have been used for deep-sea fishing, which has traditionally been seen as the province of men.