Alaskans Have Been Eating Salmon for 11,500 years

A new archeological site in Alaska has yielded an unexpected set of bones on the hearth: salmon, caught and eaten 11,500 years ago. At the time of the find, this was the oldest example of the fish having been found inland in the possession of humans – the earliest evidence of salmon consumption by humans in North America, that is to say. While bones of many other animals have been found at sites of human residence, no fish of any kind have been found this far back in time.

Cross this off your list of "excuses for not wanting to eat fish for dinner": you can no longer say that humans have only stared eating fish in North America in the past few hundred years. That's simply not true. Your 11,500-year-old Alaskan grandparents were eating salmon.

Photo above via Ben Potter. Photo below: modern salmon being cooked on a fire.

The same site, as discovered by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, yielded animal bones and human bones. The human bones were that of a pair of infants – buried in a grave, not consumed.

Other bones included animals like ground squirrels and rabbits (or hare, if you prefer).

Images above and below also from Dr Ben Potter, as photographed at the Upward Sun River dig site. ABOVE: "Excavating into lower sediments (2014)" BELOW: "Lithic scatter associated with hearth (2014)."

The use of salmon at this early age suggests that humans in the area weren't only big game hunters, as traditionally portrayed.

Also as Kemp and crew suggest, "the presence of salmon at Upward Sun River over 1,400 km upriver from the coast shows that spawning runs had been established by the end of the last Ice Age."

You can learn more about this find in the paper "Early human use of anadromous salmon in North America at 11,500 y ago" as authored by Carrin M. Halffman, Ben A. Potter, Holly J. McKinney, Bruce P. Finney, Antonia T. Rodrigues, Dongya Y. Yang, and Brian M. Kemp. This paper can be found in the scientific publication PNAS under code 10.1073/pnas.1509747112.