News / Science & Technology

Ancient Stone Weapons Found in South Africa

The excavation site is at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay, on the southern coast of South Africa. The cave opening is in the center of this image. (Photo: Erich Fisher)
The excavation site is at Pinnacle Point, Mossel Bay, on the southern coast of South Africa. The cave opening is in the center of this image. (Photo: Erich Fisher)
VOA News
Archaeologists digging at a site on the southern coast of South Africa have found a trove of sophisticated stone tools they believe were made 50,000 years before the technology to create them emerged in Europe and other regions of Africa.
 
The finding, reported in the journal Nature, could mean that the first modern humans evolved where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic.
 
Small blades, called microliths, were unearthed at Pinnacle Point, about 500 kilometers west of Cape Town, and dated back 71,000 years.

These microlith blades show a flat edge with a rounded "cutting" edge. (Photo: Simen Oestmo)These microlith blades show a flat edge with a rounded "cutting" edge. (Photo: Simen Oestmo)
The thin, 3-centimeter-long blades were carefully crafted so they could be glued into slots at the tip of arrows or spears.  Such projectile weapons gave these early humans a significant advantage when facing a prey animal - or a competing human.
 
According to Arizona State University professor Curtis Marean, director of the Pinnacle Point excavation, the lethal technology “probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction [of] our sister species, such as Neanderthals,” who did not have such projectile weapons.
 
Previous digs have found similar stone weapons in use during an ice age 60,000 to 65,000 years ago.  But the technology appeared in what archaeologists call a "flickering" pattern, with struggling cultures acquiring the weapons-making skills but failing to pass them on, and the technology seeming to vanish.
 
The new find means the method actually was passed on through generations and survived for more than 10,000 years.  Professor Marean believes field work in Africa will continue to push back in time the evidence for uniquely human behaviors.
 
A University of Toronto-led team of anthropologists working at another site in South Africa has done just that, finding new evidence that early human hunters were attaching stone points to the tips of their spears half a million years ago - 200,000 years earlier than previously thought.
 
The researchers examined 500,000-year-old stone points from an excavation at Kathu Pan 1, in Northern Cape province, and determined that they had been used as spear tips.  To do that, they recreated the ancient weapons and used a calibrated cross bow to shoot the replicas into an animal carcass.  
 
Then, they compared the wear and damage on each set of stones.  The prehistoric points showed the types of breaks that occur more commonly on spear tips than on stones used for other purposes, such as scraping and cutting. 
 
The points were tied onto wooden spears, a process called hafting, which was an important advance in hunting weapons.  Hafted spear tips are commonly found in 300,000-year-old Stone Age sites.  The new study shows the technique was used in the early Middle Pleistocene, a period before Neanderthals and modern humans embarked on separate evolutionary paths.
 
The study is published in the journal Science

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid