Ancient javelins predate humans, prompt evolution rethink

A fossil foot of homo heidelbergensis, which is thought to have made the ancient javelins discovered in Africa. Photo / AFP
A fossil foot of homo heidelbergensis, which is thought to have made the ancient javelins discovered in Africa. Photo / AFP

The oldest known stone javelins have been discovered in Africa, predating humans by 80,000 years.

Scientists say the 280,000-year-old spear tips discovered in Ethiopia were probably created by ancestors to ancient humans, rather than by our species.

The discovery Homo heidelbergensis, our ancestor, was much more technologically advanced than previously thought.

The oldest known stone-tipped spears predate the earliest known human fossils by about 85,000 years.

Homo sapiens then either developed the technology themselves, or learned it from Homo heidelbergensis, which helped them to move out of Africa and out-compete Neanderthals.

Researchers are now studying the stone javelin tips, recently found at an Ethiopian Stone Age site known as Gademotta.

The research centres on 280,000 year-old stone-tipped spears recently found at an Ethiopian Stone Age site known as Gademotta.

The Gademotta Formation in the Main Ethiopian Rift Valley was discovered in the 1970s and is best known for its Middle Stone Age archaeological sites.

Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, they claim the weapons were made from obsidian - a naturally occurring volcanic glass known for its high blast resistance and strength.

'[This] is significant because it provides direct evidence for a highly advantageous, complex technology that pre-dates the emergence of Homo sapiens,' said the authors of the study.

Researchers believe the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens in Africa, and Neanderthals in Europe and Asia, is the Homo heidelbergensis, also known as Heidelberg Man.

A combination of three separate photographs showing the skull of a Homo heidelbergensis, d

Previous evidence shows that Heidelberg Man was an accomplished tool-maker and skillfully butchered large animals.

However, the stone-tipped spears could provide a clearer understanding of the extent of this species skills.

The study also suggests that, because there were more individuals around in Gademotta during this period, there would have been a greater chance for the spread of innovative ideas.

A mixture of animal remains were found at the site by researchers have been unable to prize them apart to understand which animals were hunted.

They do however know the spears were thrown from a distance at prey, instead of thrust into victims, allowing them to hunt buffalo and other game from a safer distance.

Watch: Skull find could rewrite human evolution.

Video

When did man first throw stone javelins?

There has been much debate surrounding the precise date that early man began to use stone-tipped spears - with some experts suggesting their use as far back as 500,000 years ago.

A separate study done in May by Corey O'Driscoll, of South East Archaeology in Canberra, Australia, Professor O'Driscoll shaped flint reproductions of spear and arrow points from the Middle Stone Age in Africa and attached them to wooden shafts.

Together with a group of University of Queensland students, O'Driscoll ran 15 experiments, throwing replica spears with bows or a calibrated crossbow at lamb and cow carcasses.

The results showed 'quite a difference between the butchering marks and projectile impact marks,' and revealed six types of distinctive projectile impact wounds, from drag marks to fracture marks and punctures.

These findings prompted O'Driscoll and the University of Queensland's Jessica Thompson to take a new look at three bone specimens from large unidentified mammals - a rib and two vertebrae - from Pinnacle Point Cave in South Africa.

Two dated to between 91,000 and 98,000 years ago and the third dated even earlier, between 153,000 and 174,000 years ago - making them, at the time, the oldest direct evidence of the use of projectile weapons.

- Daily Mail

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