fishing; ancient Mediterranean; archaeology
At the Yavne-Yam site in Israel, a Bronze Age coastal industrial establishment, a variety of lead objects were found which appear to have some connection with fishing and maritime activities, including bells, weights, and rings of various sizes. At numerous other ancient coastal sites throughout the Mediterranean, similar objects have been documented but no systematic or typological study yet has been made of them. This study focuses primarily on the archaeological context and potential uses of the lead rings that have been found in maritime contexts, which range in size from small grommets to large, saucer-sized circlet.
The potential uses for such lead rings include net and anchor weights, devices for detangling caught fishing line, and securing brail lines. The context, size, and typology of the rings could be indicative of their functions as well as the size of the assemblages and their date. Additionally, ancient texts can provide some insight on ancient sailing and fishing practices, in particular the work of Strabo and Oppian. Some preliminary results and conclusions based on these investigations are presented here.
In addition to a variety of rings, a lead “bell” with a ball in the middle and several similar objects were also found at the Yavne-Yam site. In context, these discoveries suggest that bells were used in certain types of fishing at Yavne-Yam in antiquity, perhaps as described in Oppian. Conversely, they could also have been used as sounding weights to find the depth of the water and what the seabed was made of. Since the “bells” come in different shapes and sizes, they could have served multiple different purposes.
This study helps us understand the range of possible identifications and functions when considering the correct labeling of Yavne-Yam’s lead objects. Most importantly, connecting these uses to their societies and creating a more accurate historic profile provides a way for Mediterranean archaeologists to help identify the objects and understand their role on a bigger stage.