Prehistoric people in arctic Norway probably ate a lot of fish


Allan Krill
Feb 13  
Edited Feb 13

It's amazing that people managed to live in Alta a few thousand years ago. It's cold and dark in the winter: the sun sets on November 25, and doesn't rise again until January 17.

Because of the Gulf Stream, the seawater is relatively warm and the fjord never freezes over. The fjord is full of fish. Anthropologists know from fish bones found near prehistoric dwellings that people ate fish. But it's curious that the rock art of Alta rarely shows fish or fishing. I think that's because it was uninteresting to the artists. They were more interested in reindeer (and curiously, the rib bones of reindeer.)

To fish in the fjords of Norway today, one drops a line with a number of colorful or flashy hooks into the water (and a weight to make them sink) and then pulls up many fish at a time. 

When a fish gets caught and struggles, it attracts others who bite the other hooks. If prehistoric people used this technique, what did the weight and hooks look like, and why did the Alta artists not show that in their petroglyphs? Well, maybe they did. There is a type of image that has been widely discussed but never understood. Some think it was a ring of caught fish, a tent, or a necklace. I think it may have been a piece of fishing equipment.

I suggest that they bent a long reindeer rib bone into a hoop, and tied it off at the top. It was the weight needed to sink the hooks. They attached some decorative stuff on the hoop, and a number of hooks hanging below it. This allowed them to catch many fish, like we do today.

There is in fact a petroglyph that shows a hoop hanging below a boat. That may have been their standard fishing technique. They used reindeer horn to make their fishhooks, and in this image there is a relationship between a reindeer and a fishing boat, with a hoop or wide fish hanging below it. T
here are no ribs shown on that reindeer, but two ribs are shown on the moose standing just behind it, so I am not ready to deep-six that hypothesis.

(Thanks to Don Hitchcock for posting so many detailed pictures of Alta petroglyphs.) 

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