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Saturday, August 28, 2010

More evidence for arrows 60,000 years ago

New findings at Sibudu cave (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), add evidence in favor of a very ancient use of bow and arrow by Homo sapiens. These findings are small stone points which keep traces of blood and bone from the impacts and also of the resin used to glue them to the shafts.

Forensic analysis of this evidence seems to discard that they were used as hand-held spear points but must have been shot with much greater energy. However I cannot find any reasoning that excludes their possible shooting with atlats.

The BBC article that is the source of this information claims that this finding pushes the use of bow and arrow back some 20,000 years, however bone points found at the same site two years ago, and also dated to c. 60 Ka, already suggested this.


Va_Highlander said...

Atlatl points would be much more massive, I should think. The darts thrown are larger than any arrow and would as a consequence require a more robust point. A smaller point, like that of an arrowhead, would shatter on impact.

I live in the highlands of western Virginia and here surface finds are quite common. Arrowheads, dating from the Woodland period -- perhaps roughly equivalent to the late Neolithic -- are easily identified by their small size relative to other points. To an amateur's eye, such as mine, atlatl points are often indistinguishable from stone knives, unless there are clear signs of fracture due to impact.

Maju said...

Thanks, Highlander, that's a great complementary information.

You know: there's always arguments when bow and arrow is involved. Somehow a lot of people seems to be reluctant to accept that they were used already in Africa about the time of the migration to Eurasia and are not a much later development. So I took the prudent attitude.

But I'm glad that you can confirm them as arrow points specifically, specially because I find such reluctance to imagine ancient humans almost exactly as we are suspect of unwarranted prejudice.

Va_Highlander said...

I am not reluctant to acknowledge that the bow and arrow developed at such an early date in Africa. I am reluctant to accept that the technology was developed and then lost. Given the advantages of the bow and arrow, at least potentially, I should expect such technology to spread and spread rapidly, either through expansion of the initial population or through adaptation by other peoples.

Why did it not do so? This question begs for an answer, I think.

Maju said...

I'd say that there are several possibilities:

1. That the bow and arrow were developed in Africa after the migration to Eurasia (which could have happened c. 80 Ka ago or maybe even earlier). This would have left Eurasians (and maybe some Africans too) devoid of the new technology unless independently developed. This might explain the use of other projectile techniques such as the atlatl or the blowgun in the super-Eurasian area.

2. That different technologies had different advantages and were preferred on ecological and cultural grounds. For instance atlatl may have been best for large animal hunting in open terrain. We may also want to consider the availability of adequate poisons (typically used with arrows or blowgun darts) out of the tropical belt.

3. That we are missing or disregarding the evidence for bow and arrow in other areas. For instance, microliths were developed in South Asia some 38 Ka. ago (see here and here), can this signal bow and arrow?