Matthew Ridley, in the Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Review, takes the occasion of the recent finding of an array of a very sophisticated chipped-stone fishing implements on Southern California’s Channel Islands to propose the idea that it was exploitation of maritime food-gathering opportunities that really constituted the evolutionary leap that made mankind human.
Last week archaeologists working on the Channel Islands of California announced that they had found delicate stone tools of remarkable antiquityâ€”possibly as old as 13,000 years. These are among the oldest artifacts ever discovered in North America. To judge by the types of tool and bone, there was a people living there who relied heavily on abalone, seals, cormorants, ducks and fish for food.
This discovery fits a pattern. From the stone age to ancient Greece to the Maya to modern Japan, the most technologically advanced and economically successful human beings have often been seafarers and fish-eatersâ€”and they still are, as the latest tsunami reminds us. Indeed, it may not be going too far to describe our species as a maritime ape.
Ridley might have put it slightly differently. He might have suggested that it was the discovery of fishing that made mankind human, and he could then have gone on to expand that theory by noting that the invention of the fishhook directly paralleled the invention of the arrowhead and proceeding to argue that it may have been the intellectual challenge resulting from our more northerly contact with the salmonids that deepened our intelligence, leading to the creation of artificial lures and fly fishing. The maritime ape ultimately evolved into the cultivated and civilized man and the dry fly purist.
Ogden Pleissner, Dry Fly Fishing for Salmon