Scientists Find Earliest Evidence of Humans Eating Salmon

Posted on September 27, 2015

Humans started using salmon as a food source as early as 11,500 years ago. Ice Age humans in North America fished for salmon and then cooked it. The researchers say the findings counter beliefs that Ice Age Paleoindians were primarily big-game hunters. Some of the salmon bone specimens are pictured above.

11,500-year-old chum salmon bones were discovered at the Upward Sun River site in Interior Alaska by University of Alaska Fairbanks anthropologist Ben Potter and colleagues. Human dwellings, tools and remains were also found during excavation of the site. The salmon bones were found in an ancient cooking hearth. DNA and stable isotope analysis verified the fish remains as sea-run chum salmon.

UAF anthropologist Carrin Halffman, the lead author of the study, says in a statement, "Salmon fishing has deep roots, and we now know that salmon have been consumed by North American humans at least 11,500 years ago."

Fish bones are small and fragile and typically do not preserve well. The researchers say this means that fish remains are likely underrepresented in global archaeological studies and findings.

Potter says, "We have cases where salmon become landlocked and have very different isotopic signatures than marine salmon. Combining genetic and isotopic analyses allow us to confirm the identity as chum salmon, which inhabit the area today, as well as establish their life histories. Both are necessary to understand how humans used these resources."

A research paper on the study was published here in the journal, PNAS.

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