Aquatic Food Consumption

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Until the last decade or so, the archaeological record was generally read to indicate that human use of aquatic resources dated no earlier than the terminal Pleistocene. Newly reported ethnographic and archaeological data, new approaches to the interpretation of archaeofaunal assemblages, and increasingly frequent application of stable isotope analysis offer strong challenges to this reading. Ethnographic work among semi-traditional coastal foragers in southeast Africa and the southwest Pacific documents the high rates of nutritional return available from certain types of shellfish. It also shows that evidence of the exploitation of these resources will be closely tied to contemporary shorelines. Foragers operating along Pleistocene coasts could have used these foods, but most evidence of exploitation of marine resources would likely have been scattered or flooded by rising Holocene sea levels. Still, such evidence persists in at least some pre-50 kya BP Middle Stone Age and Mousterian deposits in South and East Africa and in southern Europe, and is also present in sites associated with the initial colonization of Sahul (Pleistocene Australia-New Guinea), dated 40-45 kya BP. These latter sites have also produced solid evidence of pelagic fishing, which in turn implies reliance on marine-capable watercraft. That technology along with the use of shellfish and near shore fishing are implicated in the rapid spread H. sapiens from Africa eastward along the South Asian coast 45-50 kya BP. Only rare instances of the consumption of aquatic foods, including mudfish and frogs, have been reported in wild primates. It is likely that not only ancestral human populations, but other hominids would have done so when they occupied coastal or lacustrine habitats. Some have suggested that because fish and aquatic birds consume large amounts of algae making their flesh high in essential fatty acids vital to brain development, such as DHA, the consumption of aquatic resources may have contributed to the evolution of large human brains.

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Topic Certainty
Behavior In Water Speculative
Food Handling Likely
Organized Gathering of Food True
Use of Containers Likely


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