Prehistoric arms race started earlier than previously thought

 

New York

Scientists have found evidence that human ancestors used stone-tipped weapons 200,000 years earlier than once thought, findings that may change notions about the capabilities of prehistoric people.

Spears topped with stone points were most likely used for hunting large game and self-defense and were an important advance in weaponry, according to Jayne Wilkins, lead author of the paper Thursday in the journal Science. The points came from one of the Stone Age archaeological sites in South Africa called Kathu Pan 1, and were used a half-million years ago.

Researchers first thought the early humans were using sharpened wooden spears or stone hand axes, Wilkins said. The steps required to put a sharp-tipped stone at the end of a wooden spear, called hafting, means these ancestors had to engage in planning and other goal-driven thought processes long before a hunt took place, she said.

"This expands the range of behavioral complexity known in human ancestors living 500,000 years ago," said Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, in a Nov. 13 email. "The amount of fore-planning and goal-oriented behavior required for collecting stone, wood and bindings for hafting indicate capabilities much greater than was previously known. It also shows that stone-tipped spears were being used by the ancestors of both modern humans and Neanderthals, so the technology is probably not an independent invention nor something one group learned from the other."

The spears were an improvement because the hunters could get further out of harm's way and were more likely to make a successful kill, she said.

The stone tips were recovered between 1979 and 1982 during excavations. In 2010, researchers dated the site to about a half-million years ago.

In the study, researchers replicated the stone points, attached them to spears and then shot them at a dead animal using a calibrated crossbow. The damage to the researchers' stone points was similar to that seen on the 500,000-year-old points, Wilkins said. The stone points also fit the size and shape of Stone Age points used as spear tips.

"This technology would also have provided another layer of protection from other carnivores, Wilkins said. "Stone-tipped spears would have not only helped our ancestors get food, but would also protect them from becoming food. Some researchers have linked hafted technology - the attachment of stone tools to wooden or bone handles - to language because the sequential steps of combining materials to form a spear is like a recipe that must be followed exactly to produce a result that makes sense. In that way, hafting is analogous to creating a grammatical sentence."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea