An archaeological study has determined that the cowrie artifacts found in the Mariana Islands were decoys used to hunt octopuses and that the devices, of which similar versions have been found on Pacific islands, are the oldest known artifacts of their style in the world..
The study used carbon dating of archaeological layers to confirm that decoys found on the Northern Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan dated to approximately BC, i.e. 3500 years.
“It goes back to when people first lived in the Mariana Islands. So we think they could be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world,” said Michael T. Carson, an archaeologist at the Micronesian Spot Exploration Center in the United States. University of Guam.
The study, titled “Catching the Octopus for Dinner: Ancient Octopus Lure Innovations in the Mariana Islands of the Remote Tropical Pacific,” is published in Planet Archaeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Carson, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, is the lead author of the study, assisted by Hsiao-chun Hung of the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.
Fishing gear was made with cowrie shells, a style of sea snail and a favorite food of octopuses, which were connected by a fiber rope to a stone sinker and hook.
They were found in seven web pages of the Mariana Islands. The oldest decoys were discovered in 2011 in Sanhalom near the House of Taga in Tinian and in 000 at Unai Bapot in Saipan. Other web sites include Achugao in Saipan, Unai Chulu in Tinian and Mochom at Mangilao Golf Course, Tarague Seashore and Ritidian Beach Cave in Guam.
Known Artifacts , purpose unknown – so far
“The artifacts are known – we knew them. It just took a long time to look at the possibilities, the different hypotheses, of what they might be,” Carson said. “The conventional idea – what we were told long ago from the Bishop Museum – was that these had to be for scraping agony tree or other plants, like maybe taro. they don’t look like that.”
The shells didn’t have the serrated edge of other known food scraping tools. With their holes and grooves where the fiber cord would have been attached as well as the stone sinker components, they seemed closer to the octopus lures found in Tonga approximately 3 years, i.e. 1 100 BC.
“We are convinced that these are pieces of octopus decoys, and we are convinced that they date back to BC,” Carson said.
An invention of ancient Chamorus?
Carson said the problem now becomes: did the ancient Chamoru people invent this adaptation to their environment in the time when they lived for the first time in the islands? ”
It is a possibility, he said, the other being that they brought the tradition with them from their old homeland however, no artifacts of this type has yet been discovered in the potential homelands of early Marianas settlers.
If the CHamoru people invented the first octopus lures, this gives new insight into their ingenuity and its ability to solve problems – having to create new and specialized ways of living in a new environment and taking advantage of an available supply of food.
“He tells us that this type of food resource was vital enough for them that they invented something very particular to trap these food,” Carson said. “We can’t say it contributed a massive percentage of their diet – it probably didn’t – but it was crucial enough to become what we would call a ‘tradition’ in archaeology.”
The next question to consider, Carson said, is whether there are similar objects elsewhere from an earlier time.
“From a pure archeology perspective, knowing the oldest of something is always important, because then you can track how things have changed over time,” he said. “The only other place that would be in the overseas region for the first inhabitants of CHamoru moving to the Marianas. So we would be looking to the islands of Southeast Asia and Taiwan for these finds.”