Diving and spearfishing may be a recent occurrence but, spearfishing has been done since before written history.
Here we take an interesting look at the history of this ancient practice and how it made it to the current day.
10 Fascinating Facts About the History of Spearfishing
Whether you spell it spearfishing or spearfishing, this means of survival turned extreme sport has a long and varied history. Let’s look at 10 of the most fascinating facts in the history of spearfishing.
1. Spearfishing in the Bible
A fishing spear and the act of using it is described in the book of Job in the Holy Bible.
In Job 41, there is a long description of the leviathan being faced. Historians believe that the creature being described was a crocodile. Verse 41:7 reads:
“Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?”
The entire verse goes into different ways that the leviathan may be taken down, or fail to be. Since crocodiles were fierce foes it was near impossible to take one down. The strong ones could roll a boat and sink it.
2. Using Spears to Fish Since The Stone Age
If you’re wondering how to spearfish you could always check out some cave paintings.
Cave paintings in France, that are believed to be over 16,000 years old, depict the images of harpooned seals. The Stone Age is when tools became more advanced from the simple tools of their predecessors.
These paintings prove that spears have been used for hunting sea life since before the time of written histories.
The Cosquer Cave can be visited today in Marseille, France. It was discovered in 1985 by a diver named Henri Cosquer. Interestingly, the paintings were not made public until 6 years later.
You will need SCUBA equipment to visit the cave, which sits about 115 feet below sea level. Once inside the cave you rise back up and find yourself in a cavern whose walls were protected from the water.
This is the only known cave that exists under the current sea level with ancient wall paintings still intact.
The discovery of the cave cleared up a mystery that had been haunting historians. There was a puzzling disappearance of ancient caves as you made your way to the Mediterranean Coast. It had been assumed that the ocean had washed away any evidence that may have been available.
There are multiple, large underwater caves near Cosquer that historians believe was also lived in and painted on. Centuries of salt water, however, have washed the walls clean and swept away any evidence of human inhabitants that may have once remained there.
There are 177 animals depicted in the Cosquer Cave including deer, horses, cats, and others in addition to the harpooned seals. In all, 11 species are represented in the cave paintings. There is even a human holding the head of a seal, further proving they used these animals for their meat.
In addition to the animals, there are multiple hand stencils and over 200 geometric shapes and figures depicted throughout the cave. There are also 20 mysterious figures that cannot be identified.
3. Every Culture Throughout History Has Fished With Spears
You can get spearfishing tips from any culture in the entire world. Every different region and culture uses some form of this ancient hunting method.
From the ancient cave paintings to ancient Greek treatises, moving into modern literature and art, and on into the current day with the inclusion of freediving and SCUBA, spearfishing is here to stay.
Depending on where you end up, the tools look different, and the technique may be varied but, at the end of the day, they will all land you with a fish on a stick at the end of it all.
4. A Whale Of A Tale
Perhaps the most famous recount of a spearfishing expedition is Melville’s novel, Moby Dick.
Released in 1851, it follows the quest of Ahab to hunt the great white whale, Moby Dick. The quest becomes a mad obsession for Ahab and ends with the madness taking them both down along with his ship.
The iconic novel explores class and social distinctions, the presence of good and evil, and questions the existence of God, throughout its tumultuous high seas escapade.
5. A Treatise Written For Fishing
The ancient Greeks are known for their elaborate histories and fanciful questing tales. Spearfishing was a topic also on their minds. Polybius, a Greek historian who lived between 200-120 BCE, wrote about techniques using spears to hunt swordfish.
Later, Oppian of Corylus, wrote an actual treatise concerning spearfishing. The Halieulica or Halieutika, composed between 177 and 180 C.E, is the earliest surviving work of its kind.
It describes a variety of different fishing methods using tridents and spears.
6. The Mincopie People and Harpooning
Included a historical novel written in 1870 by Rev. JG Wood titled The Uncivilized Races or Natural History of Man contains a detailed description of the fishing practices of the Mincopie people out of India.
While the title is enough to make you wince, the information is actually quite good at capturing the behaviors of these native peoples.
In the book, Wood describes the fishing spears of the Mincopie. They fashion their arrows from wood. They are expertly crafted with a weight at one end of the wood. The spearhead is ingeniously fashioned from the “barbed tailbone of a stingray” and is, more often than not, poisoned as well.
They use these arrows for a variety of purposes. Fishing, hunting, and even as a means to attack invaders. To become expert marksmen they are expected to be training starts young.
They put bows in the hands of children as soon as they are weaned to start teaching them the skills they will need to survive. The skills they will need to provide for their community.
The fact that the boys start practicing their bows from such a young age means that by adulthood they have become impressive marksmen that can handle very large heavy bows.
7. Types of Historical Spears Vary By Region and Culture
While this sport has been around since humans could form tools, the tools they use vary by region of the world and the culture using them.
There are a variety of different types of spears. Some use harpoons, others have multiple barbs, some only have one rigid bar, and others may have flexible barbs. There are so many different versions.
This could be indicative of what was needed to catch the primary fish of the region or the beliefs of the culture at the time.
8. Cod Fishermen Predate The Pilgrims
A full two centuries before the arrival of the pilgrims on the shores of the New World, explorers were writing about the abundance of cod in its oceans. It’s likely that they would have been spearfishing for the cod off their boats to fill their rations for the trip home.
The cod were so plentiful that it encouraged an early explorer from England to rename a town. Bartholomew Gosnold changed the name of Cape Saint James to Cape Cod in 1602 in honor of the abundant fishery found there.
There is a long history of spearfishing in New England and it continues today with some of the best places to keep up the sport. The beautiful waters of this region of the states make for great fishing and memories.
Commercial fishing is still the main trade of this region. Most of the Atlantic cod throughout the world comes out of New England fisheries like those found in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
9. Spearfishing was an Olympic Sport…Almost
Championed by spearfishing enthusiasts Ralph Davis, Jacques Yves Cousteau, Cosimo de Medici, Bill Schroeder, Fred Beitz, and Ernesto Zaragosa, it almost became an Olympic sport.
While you may recognize Jacques Cousteau from his famous underwater documentaries; it was Ralph Davis who led the charge to take underwater spearfishing to the Olympic Games.
After twenty years of work to create rules, and divisions, and completing the official paperwork for the bid, underwater spearfishing was beaten out by synchronized swimming in 1968.
10. Famous Spearfishing Painting Hangs In Houston Museum
Albert Bierstadt, a famous German-born American artist born in 1830, would paint one of the most iconic paintings of spearfishing.
Hanging the Houston Museum of Fine Art and named Indians Spear Fishing, it was finished in 1862. Native Americans are seen fishing from a small boat in the forefront of the painting but the true beauty is found in the majestic, untouched, mountainscape captured beautifully behind them in oil paint.
Bierstadt was famous for creating oil paintings of landscapes depicting the American “wild west”.
Top Spearfishing Gear Recommendations
Here are a few of my top recommendations, which I found super useful when spearfishing:
The Ancient Art That Is Making A Comeback
With the enhancements of SCUBA equipment, spearguns, and other gear, spearfishing is seeing a resurgence in popularity. People are traveling all over to find the best places to dive and fish.
Looking for an amazing vacation and incredible spearfishing? Here we let you in on the best places to spearfish in Florida.
Interested in jumping into the deep end and start spearfishing? Check out our guide on choosing the right speargun before you run to the store.