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This is a colour image showing five stages of fish-hook manufacture by First Nations people in the top row, and below a complete modern turban shell Turbo torquata for comparison. The modified turban shells were excavated from an archaeological site in Botany Bay, New South Wales, and range in size from 29 mm to 42 mm. The modern turban shell is 65 mm in length.
The photograph shows the sequence of manufacture of shellfish hooks from the Sydney area. One or more oval-shaped 'blanks' were cut from each shell and the shell's outer surface was ground down on a flat stone. A hole was made in the centre to form a ring and then part of the ring was removed to create the final shape. The hook was formed by filing the inner edges smooth, finishing the point and putting a notch in the shank end where the line is tied.
The five modified shells at varying stages of hook manufacture have been dated as being less than 900 years old. They were excavated from a midden at Kurnell in Botany Bay in 1970. A small pointed ground stone file, often called a fishhook file, was also excavated from the site and may have been used to shape the hooks.
The completed fishhook is representative of hooks from the area, which were either C- or J-shaped and curved to a point but not barbed. Hooks ranging from 13 to 50 mm were attached to a line made from two strands of flax or bark fibre twisted together. A small stone was attached to the line to act as a sinker. No bait was put on the hook but chewed shellfish were spat out on the surface of the water to attract fish. The pearl lustre of the shell would have acted as a lure.
The completed hook on the far right is typical of shellfish hooks found along the eastern Australian coast between Port Stephens in the north and the NSW-Victorian border in the south, which first appear in the archaeological record 900 years ago. It is speculated that fishhooks were independently invented in the region at this time or were introduced to the area either from the north coast of Australia or by Polynesians from the east.