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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 April, 2004, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Rock art hints at whaling origins
Cetacean, L'Anthropologie
Capture of a whale, showing a boat carrying whalers (left of the whale) and a float (on the right)
Stone Age people may have started hunting whales as early as 6,000 BC, new evidence from South Korea suggests.

Analysis of rock carvings at Bangu-Dae archaeological site in Ulsan in the southeast of the country revealed more than 46 depictions of large whales.

They also show evidence that humans used harpoons, floats and lines to catch their prey, which included sperm whales, right whales and humpbacks.

Details of the research are published in the journal L'Anthropologie.

"You have representations of dolphins and whales, with people on boats using harpoons and lines. It is a scene of whaling," co-investigator Daniel Robineau told BBC News Online.

For example, one scene shows people standing in a curved boat connected via a line to a whale.

Social importance

The rock engravings, or petroglyphs, seem to have been made at a range of different times between 6,000 and 1,000 BC.

Bangu-Dae petroglyphs
The engravings are visibly those of large whales, the researchers say
At nearby occupation sites dating to between 5,000 and 1,500 BC, archaeologists have unearthed large quantities of cetacean bones - a sure sign that whales were an important food source for populations in the area.

Other species represented on the rocks at Bangu-Dae include orcas (killer whales), minke whales, and dolphins.

Dr Robineau and Sang-Mog Lee, of the Museum of Kyungpook National University in Bukgu Daegu in South Korea, suggest whaling played an important role in social cohesion in the lives of the people who made the petroglyphs, similar to that which has been observed in historic Inuit populations.

Some of the depictions of whales also bear what appear to be fleshing lines, where the hunters divided up the meat after capturing and killing the mammals.

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