London, April 1 : Archaeologists working in the Russian Arctic have unearthed a remarkably detailed 3,000-year-old ivory carving that depicts groups of hunters engaged in whaling, which pushes back direct evidence for whaling by about 1,000 years.
According to a report in Nature News, the ancient picture implies that northern hunters may have been killing whales 3,000 years ago and commemorating their bravery with pictures carved in ivory.
Among the picture which depicts hunters sticking harpoons into whales, the site also yielded heavy stone blades that had been broken as if by some mighty impact, and remains from a number of dead whales.
"All of this adds up to the probability that the site, called Un'en'en, holds the earliest straightforward evidence of the practice of whaling," said Daniel Odess, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska's Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska.
"It pushes back direct evidence for whaling by about 1,000 years," he added.
Researchers have long wondered when the practice of whaling got started.
Whaling requires a community to work together to build boats, hunt and then share out the resources from the dead animal. But pinning down the origins of whaling has proven to be remarkably difficult.
There are some dramatic rock carvings in southeastern Korea that show bands of hunters going after whales. But these are nearly impossible to pin down with an exact date, according to Odess.
In contrast, the newfound ivory carving was pegged as being 3,000 years old by nearly a dozen radiocarbon dates on the soil in which it was embedded.
The 50-centimetre-long ivory carving shows hunters in umiaqs, the traditional Eskimo boats, along with whales and harpoons.
"There's no question as to what these guys are up to," said Owen Mason, an Arctic archaeologist at GeoArch Alaska in Anchorage. It's showing the whole system is there. It's showing us social complexity," he added.