Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Spears of South Africa...from 500,000 Years ago

A University of Toronto-led team of anthropologists has found evidence that human ancestors used stone-tipped weapons for hunting 500,000 years ago – 200,000 years earlier than previously thought.

"This changes the way we think about early human adaptations and capacities before the origin of our own species," says Jayne Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto and lead author of a new study in Science. "Although both Neandertals and humans used stone-tipped spears, this is the first evidence that the technology originated prior to or near the divergence of these two species," says Wilkins.

Attaching stone points to spears – known as 'hafting' – was an important advance in hunting weaponry for early humans. Hafted tools require more effort and foreplanning to manufacture, but a sharp stone point on the end of a spear can increase its killing power.

Hafted spear tips are common in Stone Age archaeological sites after 300,000 years ago. This new study shows that they were also used in the early Middle Pleistocene, a period associated with Homo heidelbergensis and the last common ancestor of Neandertals and modern humans.

"It now looks like some of the traits that we associate with modern humans and our nearest relatives can be traced further back in our lineage", Wilkins says.

Homo erectus or Homo heidelbergensis with spears. AWESOME.

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