Earliest evidence of surfing

Earliest evidence of surfing

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The WP article on the history of surfing presently describes several historic traditions and a documented episode of Hawaiians surfing in California in 1885. Obviously, being propelled by a wave on a floating board had already existed for a long time.

What is the earliest primary evidence of the practice of surfing? Was it mentioned by Captain Cook or another early visitor to Hawaii, or elsewhere?

First the easy stuff, from the article you linked, it was indeed first reported by a member of Captain Cook's expedition to Tahiti (not Hawaii):

The art of surfing, known as enalu in the Hawaiian language, was first discovered by Joseph Banks on the HMS Endeavour during the first voyage of James Cook, during the ship's stay in Tahiti. Surfing was a central part of ancient Polynesian culture and predates European contact. The chief (Ali'i) was traditionally the most skilled wave rider in the community with the best board made from the best wood. The ruling class had the best beaches and the best boards, and the commoners were not allowed on the same beaches, but they could gain prestige by their ability to ride the surf on their boards

To be specific, Mr. Bank's report comes from his journal entry of May 29, 1769:

In our return to the boat we saw the Indians amuse or excersise themselves in a manner truly surprizing. It was in a place where the shore was not guarded by a reef as is usualy the case, consequently a high surf fell upon the shore… but their cheif amusement was carried on by the stern of an old canoe, with this before them they swam out as far as the outermost breach, then one or two would get into it and opposing the blunt end to the breaking wave were hurried in with incredible swiftness. Sometimes they were carried almost ashore but generaly the wave broke over them before they were half way, in which case the[y] divd and quickly rose on the other side with the canoe in their hands, which was towd out again and the same method repeated.

It was also reported to have been a pre-contact activity in Samoa and Tonga.

The ancient Moche (in modern Peru) also practiced a similar form that was a bit more akin to stand-up paddleboarding. We know this from archeological remains depicting identical vessels to those used for this purpose by the natives today. You might think this must be a totally independent discovery of theirs, except that at around this time somehow their culture's staple crop, the domesticated sweet potato, found its way across Polynesia. So clearly there was some amount of cultural interchange between Peru and Polynesia during this time.

Earliest evidence of surfing - History

From the Journal of Captain King, Cook's Voyages, March 1779, three months after the death of Captain Cook:

The surf, which breaks on the coast round the bay, extends to the distance of about one hundred fifty yards from the shore, within which space, the surges of the sea, accumulating from the shallowness of the water, are dashed against the beach with prodigious violence. Whenever, from stormy weather, or any extraordinary swell at sea, the impetuosity of the surf is increased to its utmost heights, they choose that time for this amusement: twenty or thirty of the natives, taking each a long narrow board, rounded at the ends, set out together from the shore. The first wave they meet, they plunge under, and suffering it to roll over them, rise again beyond it, and make the best of their way, by swimming, out into the sea. The second wave is encountered in the same manner with the first the great difficulty consisting in seizing the proper moment of diving under it, which, if missed, the person is caught by the surf, and driven back again with great violence and all his dexterity is then required to prevent himself from being dashed against the rocks. As soon as they have gained, by these repeated efforts, the smooth water beyond the surf, they lay themselves at length on their board, and prepare for their return. As the surf consists of a number of waves, of which every third is remarked to be always much larger than the others, and to flow higher on the shore, the rest breaking in the intermediate space, their first object is to place themselves on the summit of the largest surge, by which they are driven along with amazing rapidity toward the shore. If by mistake they should place themselves on one of the smaller waves, which breaks before they reach the land, or should not be able to keep their plank in a proper direction on the top of the swell, they are left exposed to the fury of the next, and, to avoid it, are obliged again to dive, and regain the place from which they set out. Those who succeed in their object of reaching the shore, have still the greatest danger to encounter. The coast being guarded by a chain of rocks, with, here and there, a small opening between them, they are obliged to steer their board through one of these, or, in case of failure, to quit it, before they reach the rocks, and, plunging under the wave, make the best of their way back again. This is reckoned very disgraceful, and is also attended with the loss of the board, which I have often seen, with great terror, dashed to pieces, at the very moment the islander quitted it. The boldness and address, with which we saw them perform these difficult and dangerous manoeuvres, was altogether astonishing, and is scarcely to be credited.

Captain King's journal entry is the first description of he'e nalu, the Hawaiian word for surfing, ever recorded by Western man. Since there was no written language at this time in Hawaii, King's journal entry serves as man's earliest written account of this Hawaiian sport. Not only is the passage humorous, it also portrays how foreign something like surfing must have appeared at first sight to King and his men, especially when most European sailors of the day could not swim. Other travelers from the West who followed Captain Cook's arrival to Hawaii had a difficult time comprehending what the Hawaiians were actually doing in the surf. Early print-block engravings that began appearing back in Europe show an often skewed perception of the sport.

Hawaiian petroglyph of a surfer.

The ancient Hawaiians, however, left us more accurate evidence of their sport. Petroglyphs of surfers, carved into the lava-rock landscape, and chants that tell the stories of great surfing feats, carried a symbolic lore throughout the generations. Some of these chants date as far back as 1500 A.D., which leads us to believe that surfing may have begun long before this time in the Polynesian culture. What we do know about the origin of surfing in Hawaii is that it was part of the Kapu system of laws, which held Hawaiian royalty above the commoners in the kingdom. Chiefs used surfing and other Hawaiian sports as competition to maintain their strength, agility and command over their people.

The Kapu system also determined how, why and with what materials surfboards were to be made. The type of wood used in making a board depended on the future rider's status in society. Class distinction in old Hawaii was as apparent in the ownership of surfboards as it was in all other aspects of the culture. If shaping the board for the alii or ruling class, a lengthy surfboard between 14 and 16 feet long was superiorly crafted using premium wood. Hawaiians often made this larger board, called an olo, with the light and more buoyant wood from the wiliwili tree. Because of their size, these boards could weigh up to 175 pounds. The other board, called an alai, was normally intended for the commoners and was made smaller, 10 to 12 feet, with a heavier and denser wood, koa. After the craftsmen selected the wood to be used, they prayed and placed a ceremonial fish, kumu, in a hole near the tree's roots. Only after this ritual was completed could the tree be cut down. They then hauled the tree away and chipped and shaped it to size with a bone or stone adze. When they achieved the general shape and size of the board, they took it to the halau, or canoe house, near the beach for the finishing touches. With pohaku puna (granulated coral) or oahi (rough stone), craftsmen would remove the adze marks on the board's surface. After the board had been sufficiently planed, they applied a black finish to its surface with the root of the ti plant, hili (pounded bark) or the stain from banana buds. Sometimes they acquired the dark stain by rubbing the soot from burned kukui nuts into the wood. Once this black stain had dried, the board's surface was treated with kukui oil, giving it a glossy finish. When the surfboard was finished, its creators dedicated it before its first voyage into the sea. After each use, it was habitually treated with coconut oil and wrapped in tapa cloth to preserve and protect the wood. Through all this laboring detail, the surfboard became a valuable and revered part of Hawaiian culture.

Surfing rituals and the sport itself continued in the Kapu system until missionaries from New England began arriving in 1820. The missionaries believed surfing and other Hawaiian sports to be hedonistic acts and a waste of time. They adamantly preached against the sports' existence in Hawaii. By 1890, surfing in Hawaii was nearly extinct, with the sport practiced in only a few places. The rapidly growing agricultural empire coming into place, coupled with the immigration of foreigners, also contributed to the decline of surfing, along with many other sacred aspects of the Polynesian culture. If not for the dedication of a few Hawaiian kings like David Kalakau, an advocate of all Hawaiian sports, surfing may not have survived to see the 20th century.

In 1905, a teenager named Duke Kahanamoku and his friends began to gather under a hau (lowland) tree at Waikiki beach. Duke and his friends, who spent their days surfing, later created their own surfing club, Hui Nalu, or "The Club of the Waves." By this time, the missionaries' influence over the island had begun to decline, freeing up an avenue for the reintroduction of surfing in Hawaii. Duke and his friends later became known as the famous "Beach Boys of Waikiki" and are credited with the rebirth of surfing in Hawaii. Another individual who played an important part in the revitalization of surfing in Hawaii was also the first to bring the sport to California. In 1907, California land developer Henry Huntington asked Irish Hawaiian George Freeth to give a surfing demonstration at the opening of the Redondo-Los Angeles railroad at Redondo beach. Freeth was also the first person to create a shorter surfboard by cutting the large 16-foot design in half. His introduction of surfing to the spectators on the beaches of California ignited a revolution in both surfboard design and wave-riding techniques. The California shores soon became grounds for surfing expansion and innovation. Over the following years, the freedom to experiment in size, weight and shape, along with the introduction of fins and styrofoam, became popular topics for surfers looking to equip themselves for the larger and more challenging surf in places such as the perilous North Shore of Oahu during the winter months. The gentle waves found at Waikiki beach were perfect for the promotion of surfing, but it was the lure of giant waves that prompted the real dares for surfers looking to put it all on the line.

By 1955, the attraction of the North Shore's swells had brought on a migration of surfers from California in search of the ultimate ride down some of the world's biggest waves. Perhaps the most famous of these big wave breaks can be found at Oahu's Walmea Bay. When the winter swells hit at Waimea it is not uncommon to see waves climb to nearly 25 feet in height. Surfer Greg Ambrose, in his book Surfer's Guide to Hawaii, writes this about Waimea: "When surfing Waimea it is essential to have the proper crazed attitude that implies a certain reckless disregard for personal safety. If you paddle out thinking you are going to get hurt, you will. If you think you can't make the drop, you won't. If you begin to wonder what in the world you're doing out among those menacing waves, it's time to be thankful you're still alive and head for the beach." It was this kind of thrill seeking and addiction to big wave riding that revolutionized the sport of surfing.

"Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to [email protected] . We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest."

Thanks for the great site. In your piece you kind of skipped over this point:

Hawaii. By 1890, surfing in Hawaii was nearly extinct, with the sport practiced in only a few places. The rapidly growing agricultural empire coming into place, coupled with the immigration of foreigners, also contributed to the decline of surfing, along with many other sacred aspects of the Polynesian culture. If not for the dedication of a few Hawaiian kings like David Kalakau, an advocate of all Hawaiian sports, surfing may not have survived to see the 20th century.

In 1905, a teenager named Duke Kahanamoku and his friends began to gather under a hau (lowland) tree at Waikiki beach. Duke and his friends, who spent their days surfing, later created their own surfing club, Hui Nalu, or "The Club of the Waves."

Thanks a lot for your time, David K.

Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.

He’e Nalu and the Ancient Hawaiians

He’e Nalu, which means “wave surfer” or “wave slider,” was first recorded by early European explorers. Some researchers place the first sighting of surfing in Tahiti in 1767 by the crew of the Dolphin. Others place the moment in the eyes of Joseph Banks, a crew member on James Cook’s HMS Endeavor during its historic initial voyage in 1769 and his “discovery” of the Hawaiian Islands. In 1779, we see surfing in writing described by Lieutenant James King in the diaries of Capt. Cook. Surfing was also described by early explorers in Samoa and Tonga. Later, many landmark authors would go on to write about this ancient art including Mark Twain and Jack London.

But who invented surfing? We know very little about the early years of surfing since as missionaries took on their task of converting the “savage” natives, they also forbade such frivolities as wave riding, and the art became lost by the start of the 20th century. We do know that surfing was literally the sport of kings as the royal Ali'i class claimed the most valuable beaches and rode the most beautiful boards. Riding the heavy wooden boards took both strength and skill. Prowess on the waves translated to respect and stature on land.

In fact, the art of surfing was never considered frivolous by the ancient Hawaiians. Surfers saw it as a ceremonial communion with the ocean. Boards were made from koa, wiliwili, or ‘ulu, and board types included the alaia and the ‘olo. All these boards were finless and flat and difficult to handle due to their immense size.

If we have to pin the invention of “modern” surfing, it might be Irish Hawaiian waterman George Freeth, who became enamored by his family’s surfing roots and began a revival of sorts. He cut down the size of the traditional Hawaiian boards and worked for a time giving surfing exhibitions to tourists to California. So in some ways, George Freeth invented surfing.

Equipment and techniques

Contemporary surfboards are still made from polyurethane and fibreglass. However, they are shorter (6–6.5 feet long [1.8–2 metres]), narrower (17–19 inches [43–48 cm]), thinner (2 inches [5 cm]), and very light (5–6 pounds [2.3–2.7 kg]). Carefully shaped rails (edges of the board), noses, and tails, together with three fins, allow riders to move their craft freely around the wave and have transformed surfing into a gymnastic dance. Today the wave is the apparatus upon which surfers perform spectacular maneuvers such as “ tailslides” (withdrawing the fins from the wave and allowing the board to slip down the face of the wave), “ floaters” (“floating” the board along the top of a breaking wave), “ reverses” (rapid changes of direction), 360s (turning the board through 360 degrees on the face of the wave), and “ airs” (flying above the face of the wave).

The Ancient Polynesians

The first European encounter with surfing happened in 1767 off the coast of Tahiti. European sailors were intrigued by the Polynesians who could walk on water using long, heavy boards. For the Polynesians, surfing was a way to establish social rank and political power. The man who was the best surfer became chief of the tribe, and he was awarded a surfboard made from the best tree in the village. The social structure was established through surfing, with the best beaches and the best boards reserved for the upper class. Surfing skill was well respected throughout the community, however, and commoners could elevate their social status by proving their skills on the heavy inferior boards that they surfed with.

In the early 1800s the Hawaiian islands were visited by European missionaries who discouraged all forms of native culture, including surfing. The culture of Polynesian surfing dwindled until there were very few natives who still knew how to surf by the 1900s. The ancient art of building surfboards was also in danger of becoming obsolete by the turn of the century. Only a small handful of native Hawaiians continued to create boards and surf regularly.

Archaeologists Find Earliest Evidence of Humans Cooking With Fire

At the base of a brush-covered hill in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, a massive stone outcropping marks the entrance to one of humanity’s oldest known dwelling places. Humans and our apelike ancestors have lived in Wonderwerk Cave for 2 million years — most recently in the early 1900s, when a farm couple and their 14 children called it home. Wonderwerk holds another distinction as well: The cave contains the earliest solid evidence that our ancient human forebears (probably Homo erectus ) were using fire.

Like many archaeological discoveries, this one was accidental. Researchers weren’t looking for signs of prehistoric fire they were trying to determine the age of sediments in a section of the cave where other researchers had found primitive stone tools. In the process, the team unearthed what appeared to be the remains of campfires from a million years ago — 200,000 years older than any other firm evidence of human-controlled fire. Their findings also fanned the flames of a decade-old debate over the influence of fire, particularly cooking, on the evolution of our species’s relatively capacious brains.

At Wonderwerk, Boston University archaeologist Paul Goldberg — a specialist in soil micromorphology, or the small-scale study of sediments — dug chunks of compacted dirt from the old excavation area. He then dried them out and soaked them in a polyester resin so they would harden to a rocklike consistency. Once the blocks solidified, researchers sawed them into wafer-thin slices. The “eureka” moment came later, as the slices were examined under a microscope at Israel’s Weizmann Institute. “Holy cow!” Goldberg exclaimed. “There’s ashes in there!”

He and his colleagues saw carbonized leaf and twig fragments. Looking more closely, they identified burned bits of animal bones as well. The bones’ sharp edges, and the excellent preservation of the plant ash, indicated that neither wind nor rain had ushered in the burnt material. The burning clearly had occurred inside the cave.

Then team member Francesco Berna subjected the sample to a test called Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy (FTIR), which analyzes a material’s composition by measuring the way it absorbs infrared waves. Often used in crime labs to identify traces of drugs and fibers, FTIR can also determine the temperature to which organic matter has been heated — and Berna is among the first to adapt it for archaeology. When he ran an FTIR analysis on one of the sediment slices, the sample’s infrared signature showed that the cave material had been heated to between 750 and 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. That was just right for a small fire made of twigs and grasses.

When the team announced its findings in April 2012, it added fuel to a controversy that’s been smoldering since 1999. That year, influential primatologist Richard Wrangham proposed a theory of human origins called the “cooking hypothesis.” Wrangham aimed to fill a gap in the story of how early hominins like Australopithecus — essentially, apes that walked upright — evolved into modern Homo sapiens. Evolutionary science shows that our distant progenitors became bipedal 6 million to 7 million years ago. Archaeologists believe early hominins evolved bigger brains as they walked, took up hunting and developed more complex social structures. That process led to the emergence of Homo habilis, the first creature generally regarded as human, 2.3 million years ago. Yet H. habilis ’ brain was only moderately larger than Australopithecus’, and its body retained many apelike features. No one knows why, just 500,000 years later, a radically more advanced species — Homo erectus — emerged. Its brain was up to twice the size of its predecessor’s, its teeth were much smaller, and its body was quite similar to ours.

Wrangham credits the transformation to the harnessing of fire. Cooking food, he argues, allowed for easier chewing and digestion, making extra calories available to fuel energy-hungry brains. Firelight could ward off nighttime predators, allowing hominins to sleep on the ground, or in caves, instead of in trees. No longer needing huge choppers, heavy-duty guts or a branch swinger’s arms and shoulders, they could instead grow mega-craniums. The altered anatomy of H. erectus , Wrangham wrote, indicates that these beings, like us, were “creatures of flame.”

There was one major problem with this hypothesis, however: Proving it would require evidence of controlled fire from at least 1.8 million years ago, when the first H. erectus appeared.

The clues indicating early use of fire tend to be subtle it’s easy to miss them, but it’s also easy to see them when they’re not really there. What looks like charring on a rock or bone, for example, often turns out to be staining from minerals or fungus. And high-tech analytic techniques don’t always banish the ambiguity.

In recent decades, a number of sites have vied for the title of earliest human-controlled fire. At Koobi Fora and Chesowanja, both in Kenya, small patches of reddened soil were found in areas containing stone tools up to 1.5 million years old. To try to prove that Early Stone Age campfires caused the discoloration, researchers in the 1980s and ’90s used techniques such as magnetic susceptibility analysis and thermoluminescence dating. The first tool detects burned earth by gauging fluctuations in its magnetic field the second determines how long ago an object was heated by measuring the photons it emits when baked in a lab. Although these methods showed that burning had occurred, the evidence is simply too sparse to convince most archaeologists that humans — not wildfires or lightning — were responsible.

Another promising site is a South African cave called Swartkrans, where archaeologists in the ’80s found burned bones in a section dating between 1 million and 1.5 million years ago. In 2004, Williams College chemist Anne Skinner analyzed the bones using electron spin resonance, which estimates the temperature to which an artifact has been heated by measuring molecular fragments called free radicals. She determined that the bones had reached at least 900 degrees — too hot for most wildfires, but consistent with a campfire. But since the cave has a gaping mouth and a downward-sloping floor, naysayers argue that the objects might have washed in later after being burned outside.

Until the Wonderwerk Cave find, Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, a lakeside site in Israel, was considered to have the oldest generally accepted evidence of human-controlled fire. There, a team of scientists found traces of numerous hearths dating to between 690,000 and 790,000 years ago. A wide range of clues made this site convincing, including isolated clusters of burned flint, as if toolmakers had been knapping hand axes by several firesides. The team also found fragments of burned fruit, grain and wood scattered about.

Then came Wonderwerk. The ash-filled sediment that Goldberg and Berna found came from a spot approximately 100 feet from the entrance to the tunnel-like cave, too far to have been swept in by the elements. The team also found circular chips of fractured stone known as pot-lid flakes — telltale signs of fire — in the same area. These clues turned up throughout the million-year-old layer of sediment, indicating that fires had burned repeatedly at the site.

Does that mean fire drove the evolution of H. erectus ? Is the cooking hypothesis correct? The occupants who left these ashes at Wonderwerk lived nearly a million years after the emergence of H. erectus . Goldberg and Berna point out that it’s unclear whether the cave’s inhabitants knew how to start a fire from scratch or depended on flames harvested from grass fires outside the cave. If they were eating barbecue, it may have been only an occasional luxury. Whether that could have had an impact on human development remains an open question.

Finding the answers will require more digging. At Wonderwerk, team members plan to probe deeper, analyzing sediments up to 1.8 million years old, for evidence of fire. And they are using their cutting-edge detection methods at other early H. erectus sites as well. “If you don’t look, you’re not going to find it,” Goldberg says.


Author contributions: T.M.S., P.T., and J.-J.H. designed research T.M.S., P.T., D.J.R., R.G., and S.E. performed research M.B. and J.-J.H. contributed new reagents/analytic tools T.M.S., P.T., and D.J.R. analyzed data and T.M.S., P.T., R.G., S.E., and J.-J.H. wrote the paper.

↵ †† In this article, early H. sapiens includes African fossils postdating 200,000 ybp that are variably referred to as “ancestors of modern humans,” “early anatomically modern humans,” or “early modern humans” (1–6).

Evidence of first peoples

The date of earliest occupation of the Australian continent is constantly changing. New excavations and improved dating techniques push the date further back into the distant past.

Footprints in the sand, artefacts in ancient shelters and items such as this piece of ochre all provide evidence of the vast human history of the continent.

However, this is just part of the story, because Aboriginal people traditionally believe they have been here in their country since the time of creation and, prior to that, the continent was a &lsquoland before time&rsquo.

Aunty Val Coombs, Quandamooka Elder, 2012:

White fellas like theorising we come from somewhere else other than Australia to lessen our connection to country. We are from here. Our knowledge of our history is embedded in our blood and our country. Whitefellas knowledge of our history is only as good as their technology.

Aboriginal occupation

Aboriginal people are known to have occupied mainland Australia for at least 65,000 years. It is widely accepted that this predates the human settlement of Europe and the Americas.

Increasingly sophisticated dating methods are helping us gain a more accurate understanding of how people came to be in Australia. Some of the earliest archaeological sites are found in northern Australia.

This piece of ochre, excavated from the Madjebebe (Malakunanja II) site in Arnhem Land, is believed to be over 50,000 years old.

Other sites of considerable antiquity such as Lake Mungo in New South Wales and Devil&rsquos Lair in south-west Western Australia continue to be discovered and researched across the continent.


From an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander view of creation, people have always been in Australia since the land was created.

On mainland Australia, the Dreaming is a system of belief held by many first Australians to account for their origins. In the Dreaming all-powerful beings roamed the landscape and laid the moral and physical groundwork for human society.

Prior to the Dreaming there was a 'land before time' when the earth was flat. Ancestral beings moulded the landscape through their actions and gave life to the first people and their culture. No one can say exactly how old the Dreaming is. From an Indigenous perspective the Dreaming has existed from the beginning of time.

Surfers were still riding boards around 10 feet long. The zenith of surfing performance was for sure the noseride. But by the late sixties, Californian kneeboarder and exotic tinkerer George Greenough was seen shredding Australian pointbreaks on a tiny board with a strange thin and flexible fin. Aussie champ Nat Young with shaper Bob McTavish collaborated with Greenough on boards with less thickness in the rail, a Vee-bottom, and with a new, thinner and a more flexible, low profile fin. The culminating surfboard “Magic Sam” is seen as a missing link between the longboard and the shortboard. Nat Young traveled to the 1966 World Championships in San Diego with Sam in hand and with his new “involvement” approach to surfing put to pasture the magical noseriding of David Nuuhiwa. His win set in motion a shift towards narrower, flexible fins and shorter, thinner boards. Boards would move closer and closer to the ridiculous (more like Greenough’s kneeboard) with surfers struggling on 4-5 foot boards until length tempered in the 70’s to an average 6-7 foot.

Fin development would make the next move. Many shapers were experimenting with twin fins, but not until Mark Richards was inspired by a small twin-keeled board ridden by Reno Abellira would the Twin Fin reach a significant global audience. The twin fin design was not useful in big surf. It was drifty and jittery in juice, but in small to medium surf, it was fast and loose, giving the surfer both flow and maneuverability not imagined at that point. Mark Richards rode his design to an astounding 4 world titles from 1979- 1983. By the ’80s, basic shortboards were measuring from 5-foot small wave boards to 8-foot “guns” for big surf with either 1 or 2 fins, but an Australian professional surfer and shaper, Simon Anderson, would offer another option that would prove to be the next great change in surfboard design. By adding the third fin in the center of the twin fin design, Anderson found it infused more stability and projection into the surfboard’s performance. Anderson unveiled the three fin (thruster) in 1980 and in a few short years, it had all but replaced both single and twin fins as the set-up of choice around the world.

First evidence of farming in Mideast 23,000 years ago

Until now, researchers believed farming was "invented" some 12,000 years ago in the Cradle of Civilization -- Iraq, the Levant, parts of Turkey and Iran -- an area that was home to some of the earliest known human civilizations. A new discovery by an international collaboration of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Harvard University, Bar-Ilan University, and the University of Haifa offers the first evidence that trial plant cultivation began far earlier -- some 23,000 years ago.

The study focuses on the discovery of the first weed species at the site of a sedentary human camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was published in PLOS ONE and led by Prof. Ehud Weiss of Bar-Ilan University in collaboration with Prof. Marcelo Sternberg of the Department of Molecular Biology and Ecology of Plants at TAU's Faculty of Life Sciences and Prof. Ofer Bar-Yosef of Harvard University, among other colleagues.

"While full-scale agriculture did not develop until much later, our study shows that trial cultivation began far earlier than previously believed, and gives us reason to rethink our ancestors' capabilities," said Prof. Sternberg. "Those early ancestors were more clever and more skilled than we knew."

Evidence among the weeds

Although weeds are considered a threat or nuisance in farming, their presence at the site of the Ohalo II people's camp revealed the earliest signs of trial plant cultivation -- some 11 millennia earlier than conventional ideas about the onset of agriculture.

The plant material was found at the site of the Ohalo II people, who were fisher hunter-gatherers and established a sedentary human camp. The site was unusually well preserved, having been charred, covered by lake sediment, and sealed in low-oxygen conditions -- ideal for the preservation of plant material. The researchers examined the weed species for morphological signs of domestic-type cereals and harvesting tools, although their very presence is evidence itself of early farming.

"This uniquely preserved site is one of the best archaeological examples worldwide of the hunter-gatherers' way of life," said Prof. Sternberg. "It was possible to recover an extensive amount of information on the site and its inhabitants."

"Because weeds thrive in cultivated fields and disturbed soils, a significant presence of weeds in archaeobotanical assemblages retrieved from Neolithic sites and settlements of later age is widely considered an indicator of systematic cultivation," according to the study.

Early gatherers

The site bears the remains of six shelters and a particularly rich assemblage of plants. Upon retrieving and examining approximately 150,000 plant specimens, the researchers determined that early humans there had gathered over 140 species of plants. These included 13 known weeds mixed with edible cereals, such as wild emmer, wild barley, and wild oats.

The researchers found a grinding slab -- a stone tool with which cereal starch granules were extracted -- as well as a distribution of seeds around this tool, reflecting that the cereal grains were processed for consumption. The large number of cereals showing specific kinds of scars on their seeds indicate the likelihood of those cereals growing in fields, and the presence of sickle blades indicates that these humans deliberately planned the harvest of cereal.

The new study offers evidence that early humans clearly functioned with a basic knowledge of agriculture and, perhaps more importantly, exhibited foresight and extensive agricultural planning far earlier than previously believed.

Watch the video: Индивидуальный урок серфинга в Лос Анджелесе Школа Серфинга Golden Wave Surf School (July 2022).


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