New evidence of salmon consumption sheds light on migration from Eurasia

New evidence of salmon consumption sheds light on migration from Eurasia

Humans have been eating salmon for 11,500 years. Thanks to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, these fish have helped some of the earliest humans survive in the frigid north. Indeed, fish may have played an instrumental role in allowing migrants from Eurasia to settle in North America.

Humans have been eating salmon for 11,500 years. Thanks to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, these fish have helped some of the earliest humans survive in the frigid north. Indeed, fish may have played an instrumental role in allowing migrants from Eurasia to settle in North America.

“Salmon use seems to have deep use in northwest North America,” said study co-author Ben Potter of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  “The implications are quite profound. With this entree on the menu of Paleoindians, that potentially can influence where they’re going, when they’re going there and the kind of resource exploitation that they’re using.”

A team of researchers in Alaska have recently published a study claiming to have found the earliest-ever evidence of salmon fishing and consumption. A small collection of salmon bones was discovered in an ancient cooking hearth of an Ice Age era settlement.

“Salmon fishing has deep roots, and we now know that salmon have been consumed by North American humans at least 11,500 years ago,” said lead author Carrin Halffman, an anthropologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Analysis of the bones reveals that these fish were sea-run salmon, not landlocked fish. ‘Sea-run’ salmon are those who swim nearly 900 miles up stream every year from the Pacific Ocean to the fresh waters of the Yukon River.

“We have cases where salmon become landlocked and have very different isotopic signatures than marine salmon,” said Potter. “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.”

Fish bones usually disintegrate with the passage of time. This is part of the reason why they feature so little in the histories of the early Paleo-Indians.

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