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The Path towards Endangered Species: Prehistoric Fisheries in Southeastern Brazil


Abstract

Brazilian shellmounds are archaeological sites with a high concentration of marine faunal remains. There are more than 2000 sites along the coast of Brazil that range in age from 8,720 to 985 cal BP. Here, we studied the ichthyoarchaeological remains (i.e., cranial/postcranial bones, otoliths, and teeth, among others) at 13 shellmounds on the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro, which are located in coastal landscapes, including a sandy plain with coastal lagoons, rocky islands, islets and rocky bays. We identified patterns of similarity between shellmounds based on fish diversity, the ages of the assemblages, littoral geomorphology and prehistoric fisheries. Our new radiocarbon dating, based on otolith samples, was used for fishery characterization over time. A taxonomical study of the ichthyoarchaeological remains includes a diversity of 97 marine species, representing 37% of all modern species (i.e., 265 spp.) that have been documented along the coast of Rio de Janeiro state. This high fish diversity recovered from the shellmounds is clear evidence of well-developed prehistoric fishery activity that targeted sharks, rays and finfishes in a productive area influenced by coastal marine upwelling. The presence of adult and neonate shark, especially oceanic species, is here interpreted as evidence of prehistoric fisheries capacity for exploitation and possibly overexploitation in nursery areas. Various tools and strategies were used to capture finfish in seasonal fisheries, over rocky reef bottoms and in sandy littoral environments. Massive catches of whitemouth croaker, main target dermersal species of South Atlantic coast, show evidence of a reduction in body size of approximately 28% compared with modern fisheries. Fishery activity involving vulnerable species, especially in nursery areas, could mark the beginning of fish depletion along the southeastern Brazilian coast and the collapse of natural fish populations.

Abstract

Brazilian shellmounds are archaeological sites with a high concentration of marine faunal remains. There are more than 2000 sites along the coast of Brazil that range in age from 8,720 to 985 cal BP. Here, we studied the ichthyoarchaeological remains (i.e., cranial/postcranial bones, otoliths, and teeth, among others) at 13 shellmounds on the southern coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro, which are located in coastal landscapes, including a sandy plain with coastal lagoons, rocky islands, islets and rocky bays. We identified patterns of similarity between shellmounds based on fish diversity, the ages of the assemblages, littoral geomorphology and prehistoric fisheries. Our new radiocarbon dating, based on otolith samples, was used for fishery characterization over time. A taxonomical study of the ichthyoarchaeological remains includes a diversity of 97 marine species, representing 37% of all modern species (i.e., 265 spp.) that have been documented along the coast of Rio de Janeiro state. This high fish diversity recovered from the shellmounds is clear evidence of well-developed prehistoric fishery activity that targeted sharks, rays and finfishes in a productive area influenced by coastal marine upwelling. The presence of adult and neonate shark, especially oceanic species, is here interpreted as evidence of prehistoric fisheries capacity for exploitation and possibly overexploitation in nursery areas. Various tools and strategies were used to capture finfish in seasonal fisheries, over rocky reef bottoms and in sandy littoral environments. Massive catches of whitemouth croaker, main target dermersal species of South Atlantic coast, show evidence of a reduction in body size of approximately 28% compared with modern fisheries. Fishery activity involving vulnerable species, especially in nursery areas, could mark the beginning of fish depletion along the southeastern Brazilian coast and the collapse of natural fish populations.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Paleontological Institute and Museum
Dewey Decimal Classification:560 Fossils & prehistoric life
Language:English
Date:29 June 2016
Deposited On:05 Jul 2016 12:22
Last Modified:31 Jul 2016 08:42
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1932-6203
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154476

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