Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Ancient Fishermen Lured Fish With Fire


Discovery Channel
By Jennifer Viegas
September 25, 2007

Fishermen around areas mentioned in the New Testament worked the night shift, suggests fishing gear found in a 7th century shipwreck off the coast of Dor, Israel, west of Galilee, where Jesus is said to have preached.

The standout item among the found gear is a fire basket, the first evidence for "fire fishing" in the ancient eastern Mediterranean. Early images and writings indicate fires were lit in such baskets, which were suspended in giant lantern devices from the end of fishing boats.

Light emitted from the fire both attracted and illuminated fish, as well as other sea creatures, like octopus, which men then speared or captured in nets.

"Striking at night is classified as fire hunting," explained archaeologists Ehud Galili and Baruch Rosen, who excavated the shipwreck.

Their findings have been accepted for publication in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

The researchers, from the Israel Antiquities Authority, added that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato (approximately 428-348 B.C.) wrote about the practice, which involved striking fish forcefully from above or below the water.

The fact that Plato should write about this method "reflects the importance of fire fishing in the ancient Mediterranean," according to the researchers, and reveals that fire fishing was practiced throughout the New Testament era and for several centuries thereafter.

Aside from the iron fire basket, the shipwreck yielded rectangular lead fishing net sinkers used to weigh down cast nets. A five-pronged fishing spear made of iron was also in the wreck, as was a tubular, iron sounding lead.

Sounding leads are metal bobs used to measure water depth. Fishermen would fill the hollow portion with tallow, attach the bob to the end of a sounding line, and then fling them over the side of the boat. Both the length of the line and debris stuck to the tallow would indicate depth measurement.

The scientists think the sounding lead provides further evidence for fire fishing at night, since fishermen then charted their course using the stars, but would need the sounding lead "to locate a specific fishing ground."

"When returning home at night, or in conditions of low visibility, the sounding lead was an essential navigational aid," they explained.

A bronze steelyard weight in the shape of a woman was also found in the shipwreck. It was probably used to balance the heft of fish on a makeshift scale.

Multiple bronze coins, also found among the ship's remains, date the wreck to around 665 A.D., right after a Muslim conquest. It is therefore possible that the fishermen and their boat were causalities of the Byzantine-Muslim conflict at the time.

K.C. Hanson, editor and chief of Wipf and Stock Publishers, researched ancient fishing practices associated with the New Testament for a Biblical Theology Bulletin paper.

Hanson told Discovery News that fire fishing is not directly mentioned in the Bible, but the Bible does include information about the other artifacts and early fishing practices.

"Keep in mind that four of the original disciples were fishermen," he said. "And how would an individual such as Jesus connect and meet new people? By building networks based on fishing villages around the Sea of Galilee."

Hanson explained that early fishermen from the region, including the apostles, probably used most of their catch for garum, "which was a very important source of protein, particularly for the poor who couldn't afford whole, fresh fish."

He said garum consisted of fish pieces preserved in a salt brine or olive oil. It would have been more liquefied than today's canned tuna and other fish, and was used in soups, with grains and in other preparations.

Hanson added, "Writings from the time reveal that some people loved it, while others thought it tasted like dreadful glop."


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