E.60727 Click to enlarge image
Stone File E.60727 Image: Paul Ovenden
© Australian Museum

Finished and partially-made shell fishhooks and 'blanks' cut from heavy turban shells, Turbo torquatus, for making hooks have been found in several Aboriginal middens in the Sydney region.

Fishhooks used around coastal Sydney were curved but not barbed. They were usually made from shell but wood, bird talons and possibly bone were used. The sheen from the pearl-like inner surface of turban shells may have acted as a lure for the fish. The fish hooks were made by women.

The archaeological record suggests there were five stages to making a shell fishhook:

Stage 1: one or more oval-shaped 'blanks' were cut from each shell. The edges of these blanks were partly smoothed by filing.

Stage 2: the outer (convex) surface of the blank was ground down, probably on a flat stone, until its centre was very thin or worn through.

Stage 3: a hole was made (if the centre was not worn through) or enlarged (if the centre was worn through) by chipping out the thinned centre of the shell until there was only a ring of shell left.

Stage 4: the rough shape of the final fishhook was formed by removing a small part of the ring.

Stage 5: the final hook is formed by filing the inside smooth, finishing the point and notching the longer end where the line was tied.

Small, pointed ground stone files (often referred to as fishhook files) which were used in making the hooks, have been found in shell middens of the same age and geographic distribution as the shell fishhooks. These files were also used to work wood and perhaps bone.