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                River Astræus      Medieval Fisherman of Jerma      Saint Zeno from Verona

                                               History of hook making

History of hook making


            A gorge is usually considered as a forerunner of hooks. It was a sick made of wood or bone, sharpened on both sides. When a fish swallows bait with a gorge the line tightens and the gorge pierces into its throat. It is not precisely clear how long this method was used to catch fish, but eventually it was replaced with hooks that have distinctive shape ever since.


            It is estimated that the firs hooks appeared about 40000 years ago. They were made of wood. A twig with a thorn or similar shaped pieces of wood could easily be shaped into characteristic hook shape. Hawthorn spikes were used for such purpose and possibly from other timber. Such hooks may be almost as sharp as modern models, but wood is not very long lasting material and that it why there are no preserved hooks of that type. However, in some parts of the world such hooks remained in use almost to the modern ages, and that is how we can see how they looked like. One example are hooks made by Native Americans and are shown on the picture 1.








             The basic idea defined when wood was used was transferred to a new material, which was widely available – bone. It cannot be precisely estimated when bone hooks were first used, but it was probably around 20000 years ago. Although made from more resilient material, bone hooks were found in just a few locations. The oldest were discovered in Czech Republic, also in Palestine, Egypt, Norway but also in Serbia.



            The oldest hooks discovered in Serbia were located in Lepenski Vir (6-7000 years ago) and Vinča (5000 years ago). Both locations were on the Danube banks. There was other fishing gear found along with them, such as weights for nets and harpoons made from deer antlers. It is amazing how sharp those hooks are even today. Lepenski Vir hooks can be seen on picture 2, while Vinča hooks are on pictures 3 and 4, they are still almost suitable for fishing. Their size varies from 4 to 15 cm. There are interesting theories about those hooks. Particularly appealing is an assumption that the bone hooks were specifically cooked in oils in order to be harder and stronger, and there are some evidences which confirm it. Also, it seems that the precisely defined pieces of bones were used, so that always the needed shape is obtained. It is also very interesting to note that on some of bone hooks found in Serbia there was pronounced barb, with the purpose to prevent hook from slipping out of the fish mouth.


            First metal hooks were made from copper, which came into practice about 6000 years ago. Soon after that they were made from bronze, which is much stronger alloy. Copper hooks were used by Egyptians and people of Mesopotamia, about 4000 years ago. Numerous hooks were discovered in those areas. Those hooks were barbless and simply shaped in size between 2 and 6 cm. Old bronze hooks were discovered on Crete and in Italy (Pompeii). Some of them were barbed. Some bronze hooks were discovered near larger rivers of Serbia too, which is not surprising considering that this area was quite populated in Roman times. The picture 5 shows some of them, collected by our well known ichthyologist, the late Mihajlo Djonic.



            During Roman times iron and steel came to be used in hook making. In many places on the Balkan Peninsula simple furnaces for processing raw iron were found. It was used for many tools and weapons, and also for hooks. They were stronger than bronze hooks, and were suitable for larger fish. Steel was even more stronger material, but at the time it was as expensive as gold, and of very unpredictable quality. Up until relatively recently it was not used for hook making, while today all quality hooks are made of steel.


            Hooks were home made at first – each fisherman made his own hooks. In some areas this lasted until quite recently. Specific hook makers appeared among blacksmiths who produced various iron tackle. In some parts of Serbia still there are craftsman capable of producing large but fine forged hooks for trophy sized catfish or sturgeons of the Danube.


                                                    © Goran Grubić and Aleksandar Panić, May 2004.