Did Stone Age people swim and dive just for the fun of it?
One-third of the people living in an ancient village far from the sea developed a condition typically seen today in avid surfers and divers.
Surfer's ear is the common name for an exostosis or abnormal bone growth within the ear canal. Irritation from cold wind and water exposure causes the bone surrounding the ear canal to develop lumps of new bony growth which constrict the ear canal. The condition is not limited to surfing and can occur in any activity with cold, wet, windy conditions such as windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, jet skiing, kitesurfing and diving.
So, how come nearly half the adult population in a Stone Age village in eastern Turkey, far from the ocean, developed these bony growths indicative of frequent exposure to cold water?
Körtik Tepe is a site in eastern Turkey, which was first occupied between 12,400 and 11,250 years ago. This was a time of massive social change, when roaming hunter-gatherers first began living in permanent villages. Very little is known about the lives of those early villagers, other than that they continued to hunt and gather food—and ate entirely wild plants, animals and fish—rather than farming the land.
Near 50% had surfer's ear
Surfer’s ear has been reported in ancient skeletons before but such a high prevalence is virtually unheard of, and it seems likely that the people at Körtik Tepe regularly dived in nearby cold rivers. Some scholars theorize that they did so perhaps because fish or other aquatic resources were an important part of their diet.
However, relatively few fish bones have been found at the site, and nitrogen levels in the human bones are not consistent with an aquatic diet.
Diving for leisure?
A team led by Yılmaz Erdal at Hacettepe University in Ankara speculates that the ancient people spent plenty of time in the chilly waters of nearby rivers to keep clean, or even simply for entertainment. Reuven Yeshurun at the University of Haifa, Israel, is also skeptical of the fishing idea as there is solid evidence for fishing as a dietary staple and does not see why the ancient villagers certainly could not have engaged in swimming and diving activities, which is a kind of leisure activity we never really associate with Stone Age people.