Audio-book Review
            By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog: awalkingdelight)

Fishing (How the Sea Fed Civilization)

By: Brian Fagan

Narrated by: Shaun Grindell

Brian Fagan (British Author, Profesor of Anthropology at U of C. Santa Barbara. PhD from Cambridge University.)

Brian Fagan reveals where humanity came from, the ways in which humans populated the world, and more particularly how early humans relied on fishing. Fagan exposes a trail of archaeological details that show humans have been fish eaters from their evolutionary bipedal hunter/gatherer beginnings.

Fagan suggests humanity evolves because hunter/gatherers were not only animal hunters and berry munchers but fishing people. Fagan’s research suggests humans have been fish eaters since the beginning of their self-awareness.

Fagan figuratively and literally travels the world to itemize artifacts of human remains that show fishing exists in the earliest known communities of the world. Fagan reinforces Graeber and Wengrow by noting communities of human beings were not created as a result of one thing like farming but on many activities based on survival and/or identity. (Few archeologists disagree on one fact. The human animal began in Africa. When “Lucy” or some being like her evolved, all became descendants of Africa.)

Ancient Fishing Spear Africa

Fagan notes fragments of rock in pre-history African’ sites were honed with barbs to stop fish from wiggling free after being speared.

The survival of any species is dependent on nourishment. In civilization’s beginning, archaeologists surmise human ancestors became hunter-gatherers to survive. Humanity formed into groups from a survival instinct that led to communal association. Fagan’s archeological research revealed artifacts that show hunter-gatherers found fishing as an integral part of humanity’s drive to survive. He notes fragments of rock in pre-history African’ sites were honed with barbs to stop fish from wiggling free after being speared. Fish skeletons were found near the homed spear heads.  Fagan finds barbed artifacts near Kenyan and Tanzanian lakes in Africa. Fagan notes, the earliest spear heads had barbs on one side while later spear heads had barbs on both sides.

A second interesting finding by Fagan is that fish farming is found in early Chinese civilizations. In 1000 BCE, a written record by Fan Li (in the Zhou dynasty 1112-221 BCE) describes a carp farm designed to feed a popular demand for fish.

It is a surprise to find fish farming has such a long history.

Fagan notes preservation techniques used by early ancestors. Salt is used to dry fish to preserve it for sailors’ consumption on long voyages and for general consumption when harvests are greater than a market can consume.

Fagan reminds listeners/readers of the immense size of fish. One fish could serve a village for weeks. Southern and Ocean sunfish weight well over 2 tons, some sturgeon and sharp-tail molas near 2 tons, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna over 1400 pounds, Pacific Bluefin Tuna over 900 pounds, a Goliath Grouper over 600 pounds, halibut, Warsaw Grouper, and Yellow Fin Tuna over 400 pounds, while lesser size cod are nearer 100 pounds.

Today, catching fish by hand or spear is limited, while all other forms are used by more serious sport and commercial fishing operations. Sport and commercial fishing, along with rising human consumption, have depleted fish populations around the world. The size of fish has fallen, along with their populations because they no longer live as long or are harvested to extinction.

A part of Fagan’s fish-eating history is shellfish harvesting and consumption. The remains of shellfish are found in ancient sites. Some cultures use the shells as a form of exchange, others as a form of adornment and sometimes as musical or tonal instruments.

Shell Fossils
Several chapters at the end of Fagan’s book recount the consequences of global warming and the insatiable demand of fish eaters that are depleting the world’s fish habitats and populations.

Fagan offers interesting insights to listener/readers on the origin of fishing’s ancient, present, and future importance to humanity.

Author: chet8757

Graduate Oregon State University and Northern Illinois University, Former City Manager, Corporate Vice President, General Contractor, Non-Profit Project Manager, occasional free lance writer and photographer for the Las Vegas Review Journal.

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