Ancient salmon consumption has been taking place in North America ever since the Ice Age, our ancestors hunting and cooking fish even 11,500 years ago.
The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the study was led by Carrin Halffman, anthropologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
A team of researchers unearthed chum salmon bones at the Upward Sun River archelogical site in central Alaska, and these remains date back from the end of the last Ice Age. They were discovered in a prehistoric cooking hearth located in an old derelict settlement where Paleo-Indians used to live. Under this ancient fireside, a grave where two children were buried has also been discovered.
According to experts, the fish relics are the earliest proof that we’ve ever retrieved of salmon fishing and consumption in North America. Normally, fish bones can’t be preserved well across the ages, given that they are fragile and river beds are gravelly, which is why there aren’t many such vestiges of early human history.
Prior to this discovery, researchers hadn’t imagined that Paleo-Indians used salmon or any other kind of fish as part of their diet. Previous excavations conducted in the area had proved that ancient populations cooked other animals for consumption, such as hare, grouse, and ground squirrels.
DNA tests and stable isotope analysis were conducted on the 300 bone samples, and it was established that they do not belong to landlocked fish. Instead, they are from sea-run or diadromous salmon, which migrate from oceans to rivers.
These chum salmon are currently common in the area, and it is believed they traveled around 870 miles, from where the Yukon river flows into the Bering Sea, adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. The Tanana River, a tributary of the Yukon, is in close proximity, and salmon may have migrated to spawn from the ocean to the riverside.
“With this entree on the menu of Paleoindians, that potentially can influence where they’re going, when they’re going there and the kind of resource exploitation that they’re using”, declared Ben Potter, co-author of the study.
Basically, given the migratory nature of the salmon species, it seems likely that the populations feeding on this fish also traveled in order to find more abundant fishing grounds.
There is much excitement among scientists regarding these findings, which mark the early beginnings of salmon exploitation in the region. Previous evidence had dated salmon consumption over 6,000 years later than it has now been proved. Some ongoing speculations suggest fishing could have been a key factor in North America’s colonization by early settlers from Eurasia.
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