A new study has found that Cowrie Shell artifacts that can be found in significant numbers in the Mariana Islands are thought to be the oldest known octopus lures.
The archeological study used carbon dating techniques on artifacts from the Northern Mariana Islands of Tinian and Saipan and found that most dated from around 1500 BCE, making them over 3,500 years old.
Scientists are sure the devices are octopus lures, as they bear a striking resemblance to other octopus hunting lures that can be found across the Pacific islands, including some 3,000-year-old ones found on Tonga.
According to Michael Carson, an archaeologist with the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University of Guam:
“That’s back to the time when people were first living in the Mariana Islands. So we think these could be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world. The artifacts have been known — we knew about them. It just took a long time considering the possibilities, the different hypotheses, of what they could be…
“The conventional idea — what we were told long ago from the Bishop Museum [in Honolulu, Hawaii] — was that these must be for scraping breadfruit or other plants, like maybe taro. [But] they don’t look like that.”
“We’re confident they are the pieces of octopus lures, and we’re confident they date back to 1500 B.C…. Purely from an archaeology standpoint, knowing the oldest of something is always important — because then you can track how things change through time…The only other place that would be is in the overseas homeland area for the first CHamoru people moving to the Marianas. So we would look in islands in Southeast Asia and Taiwan for those findings.”
The study was published in World Archaeology and can be found here.