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

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid