by Terry Maas and David Sipperly
Imagine shore dwellers foraging in tide pools for shells and
fish, glimpsing the abundance beneath the shimmering blue water. Undaunted by cut feet,
blurred vision and seawater-washed sinuses, a few souls ventured beyond the waves-into the
belly of the Mother Sea to collect her promised riches.
The exact origins of breath-hold diving are unknown. Some archaeologists believe that
Neanderthal man dived for food and depended equally on ocean resources and terrestrial
resources-he hunted for shellfish as often as he gathered berries and nuts.
Freedivers appeared in widely separated civilizations along the shores of warm, clear
seas. Aboriginal North Australian wall paintings depict men swimming with spears and
strings of fish. The original inhabitants of the Bahamas were accomplished spearfishers
and pearl divers.
South Pacific Islanders fashioned swimming fins from palm fronds and tar. They made diving
masks from tortoise shells, which, when finely polished, became nearly transparent.
The first known case of occupational disease was caused by freediving. An article
appearing in the March 1995 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, written by Bernardo
Arriaza and Enrico Ferorelli, describes the life of the Chinchorro, a prehistoric tribe of
fisherfolks who lived along the coast of Chile and Peru. Examination of the skulls of
Chinchorrian mummies revealed that more than one-fifth (mostly males) exhibited bony
masses protruding into their ear canals. The condition, now known as auditory exostosis,
is common among people who dive in cold water without thermal