FAIRBANKS, Alaska— A new report from the University of Alaska Fairbanks has revealed the discovery of salmon bones that are over 11,000 years old. And while that’s nothing new—the modern Pacific Salmon has been in existence for an estimated 4-6 million years—the remarkable presence of a human settlement around the bones is eye opening.
The salmon were found near a cooking hearth and burial site belonging to the Beringia peoples—some of the original colonizers of the North American continent—at the Upward Sun River Site. A report from New Scientist says the fish bones, which are rarely preserved, escaped complete decomposition thanks to a rapid burial away from acidic forest sediments. The discovery marks the oldest evidence of salmon fishing on the continent, as well as the establishment of salmon runs by the end of the last Ice Age (110,000 – 12,000 years ago).
Scientists were unable to locate evidence of how the fish were caught, but say that nets, hooks and spears were likely used. Their research also indicates that the Beringia, who crossed the frozen Bering Land Bridge between Asia and North America, likely used fish and fishing techniques, in addition to big game hunting, as a food source as they migrated throughout the continent.
“When you move into a new environment, it is important to be able to use your existing technology and skills to obtain food,” says Michael Richards, a representative of the University of British Columbia. “If you could use the same fishing technology and similar species to what was used in the place you were migrating from, that would provide a stable and accessible food.”
This points to fishing as a cornerstone of civilization in North America. The bones were identified as belonging to chum salmon that had migrated to the Upward Sun River Site from the sea.