The fish of Koobi Fora

2 minute read

A number of papers related to the hominin exploitation of aquatic resources are appearing soon in the Journal of Human Evolution. Two of these in the early online area of the journal.

A research article by Will Archer and colleagues looks at the faunal assemblage at the Koobi Fora FwJj20 locality. At 1.95 million years ago, FwJj20 presents the earliest known evidence of repeated exploitation of fish and turtles by toolmaking hominins. The article begins with an extensive review of the issues related to aquatic resources and some discussion of ethnographic observations of fish consumption in the Turkana area. Unlike some recent papers that emphasized the role of particular fatty acids from fish, Archer and colleagues focus more generally on the value of dietary fat during the dry season:

Ethnographic data suggest that during periods of food shortage, hunter-gatherers intentionally under-utilize foods that are high in protein and low in fat like lean terrestrial meat in favor of foods with higher lipid content (Speth, 1991). Catfish meat in particular is ‘fattier’ in the dry season, a characteristic easily recognizable and sought after by fishermen in the Marsabit district on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, identified by the butter yellow color of the flesh (Personal communication from indigenous Turkana fishermen).

Mmm…buttery yellow catfish flesh.

One of the most important issues identified by Archer and colleagues is that fish and turtle remains do not present much evidence of human modifications such as cutmarks or percussion marks. A high fraction (upwards of 60%) of terrestrial vertebrate bones may show cutmarks or percussion marks, but only a small fraction of fish bones do, and the pattern of human-induced breaks is largely the same as natural breaks. Archer and colleagues show that the representation of fish remains at FwJj20 is similar to human-accumulated fish assemblages in recent archaeological periods, in that humans exploit relatively few species of fish, and leave more heads than other parts.

The other paper is by José Joordens and colleagues, and I’ll be writing about it later this weekend.


Archer, W., Braun, D. R., Harris, J. W., McCoy, J. T., & Richmond, B. G. (2014). Early Pleistocene aquatic resource use in the Turkana Basin. Journal of human evolution doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.02.012

Joordens, JCA, Kuipers RS, Wanink JH, Muskiet FAJ. (2014) A fish is not a fish: Patterns in fatty acid composition of aquatic food may have had implications for hominin evolution. Journal of Human Evolution doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2014.04.004