Fishing expeditions were first organized by Africans 90,000 years ago. A finely wrought series of harpoon points, all elaborately polished and barbed, was discovered in Katanda, a region in northeastern Zare (now Congo).
A well-crafted tool, thought to be a dagger, was also discovered. The findings suggested the existence of an ancient aquatic or fishing culture.
Katanda Territory is one of five territories that comprise the current Congolese province of Kasai-Oriental, along with the city of Mbuji-Mayi.
Earlier humans in Central Africa used some of the earliest barbed points, such as this harpoon point, to spear huge prehistoric catfish weighing as much as 68 kg (150 lb)–enough to feed 80 people for two days. Harpoons were later used by humans to hunt large, fast marine mammals.
The Semliki harpoon, also known as the Katanda harpoon, is a group of complex barbed harpoon heads carved from bone that were discovered at an archaeologic site on the Semliki River in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire); the artifacts date back about 90,000 years.
The discovery of the first harpoon head occurred in 1988. When the artifact was dated to 88,000 BCE, there was some skepticism among archaeologists about the accuracy of the stated age; the object appeared too advanced for human cultures of the time.
The site, however, has yielded numerous other examples of similar harpoons, and the dates have been confirmed.
It appeared to substantiate that fishing and a “aquatic civilization” existed in the region across eastern and northern Africa during the wetter climatic conditions of the early to mid-Holocene, as evidenced by other evidence at the Ishango lakeshore site.
The site is littered with catfish bones, and the harpoons are large enough to catch adult catfish, so investigators believe the fisherman visited every year “to catch giant catfish.”
The harpoons are unlikely to be significantly different from those used today.
The archaeologic site coincides with the range of the Efé Pygmies, who have been shown to be of extremely ancient and distinct lineage by mitochondrial DNA analyses.