For the past several weeks during my internship at Bishop Museum, one of my favorite tasks has been scanning fishhooks from the H1 site at South Point (Ka Lae). Excavated between 1953 to 1959 by Dr. Yosihiko Sinoto and his colleagues, these fishhooks have been of interest to archaeologists for many years. I am honored to do my part in creating a digital database which will aid researchers both near and far in better understanding these unique artifacts. Each individual hook or hook fragment gets scanned four times – one low and one high resolution scan of each side. Using Photoshop, I lightly enhance the high res scans. These images will greatly help researchers from the University of Auckland with a stylistic re-analysis that they have planned, the first in many decades.
I find that each hook has its own personality. Some are of bone while others are carved from spectacular pearl shell. Some are double-barbed, while others have a single point. Many of the pieces are either the shank or point of a two-piece fishhook, contrasting with the whole single-piece fishhooks. Frequently, I come across fishhook blanks, which consist of worked material that never became finished products. A spectrum of colors, sizes, and differing attention to detail sets each piece apart from the one previous.
The tool used in manufacturing the many fishhooks in the Museum’s collections is known as a pump drill, consisting of two crossing wooden sticks held together with cordage and weighted with a stone above a pointed stone tip. Wrapping the cordage around the vertical piece of wood, the worker would push down on the horizontal stick, which would cause the vertical piece and therefore the pointed tip to rotate and drill into the blank material. The perforations would serve as the inner, rounded part of the hook-to-be, with the outer material shaped until it was perfect.
It has been incredible being a part of this important effort. I am amazed at how much I have learned in these past few weeks, and knowing how much more can be gleaned from these artifacts is incredible. Although they no longer catch fish, they have certainly captured my imagination.