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Fishing is men's work

Study Says Stone Agers Preferred Meat

Surf or turf? If you've faced that decision in a restaurant, consider what Stone Age people in coastal Britain went through, with a traditional seafood diet on one hand and newly domesticated plants and animals on the other.

A new study says that about 6,000 years ago, they chose turf in a big way.

... For the coastal people, results show a sharp shift at around 6,000 years ago that indicates a switch from a marine-based diet to a terrestrial one. Richards said plentiful remains of domesticated plants and animals at archaeological sites suggest the land-based food was not being hunted or gathered in the wild.

This story is a week old, but it took me a little while to verify my suspicions about a parallel with Tasmania. About 3,000 years ago, Tasmanian Aborigines stopped eating fish. They didn't have domesticated plants and animals as an alternative, though. Some people suggest a climatic change that made fish a less valuable resource. The most interesting theory (in my mind) comes from Harry Lourandos. He says that at this time, burning of the Tasmanian forests opened them up, making the habitat more suitable for land animals and the people who hunted them (the time frame lines up, I believe, with the final, and most environment-altering, phase of Aboriginal burning on the mainland -- so there may be a partial climate effect in terms of making the necessary kind of burning possible). Based on ethnographic analogy, we can guess that fishing was a male activity, as was hunting. This made it necessary to pick one or the other. And below a certain threshold of use, it became inefficient to retain the skills necessary for fishing, finalizing the shift and closing the door to a return to the old way of life.

I wonder if this gender dynamic was at work in the British case. If fishing and animal husbandry were both male activities for the ancient British (a not unreasonable assumption based on what we know of other societies), then perhaps the men abandoned fish for animals that they could control more directly.


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