Langley et al. 2020
For over 100,000 years, the earliest people had hunted the Pleistocene megafauna with wooden throwing spears. At least 64,000 years ago, people in Africa invented a deadly new way of hunting: bows and arrows. Bow and arrow eventually became an integral part of hunting and warfare across cultures on five continents, but we are not sure when or how this spread of Paleolithic weapons took place.
Archaeologist Michelle Langley and her colleagues recently found an important clue in a cave in Sri Lanka called Fa-Thien Lena: 130 bone arrowheads from around 48,000 years ago. The discovery is the oldest evidence of a bow and arrow ever found outside of Africa. And there is evidence of how people have adapted to survive in challenging new environments such as the Arctic of Siberia, the highlands of Tibet, and the tropical forests in Africa, Asia, and Melanesia. The invention of such new technologies has contributed to Homo Sapiens having the advantage we needed to conquer the world.
"There are a number of ways that bow and arrow technology could get to Sri Lanka," Griffith University Langley told Ars. "It could have been brought from Africa with a traveling population. It could have been innovated independently in Sri Lanka. Or it could have innovated in Africa (or elsewhere) and then brought along trade routes or social networks through word of mouth or a brought along example. We have no idea at the moment! "
Enlarge /. These are called bipoints because they have a point at both ends.
Langley et al. 2020
Make important points
People seem to have lived in Fa-Thien Lena repeatedly for at least 48,000 years. The earliest inhabitants of the cave left a selection of bone tools, shell pearls and the remains of ancient meals. They made their tools and waited under the protection of the cave. During the excavation, partially finished tools and discarded debris were found in the bottom of the cave. And these tools, chipped and sharpened by the apes' limbs, are unlike anything archaeologists have found anywhere else.
"This Sri Lankan assemblage is unique for its time and the styles or types of tools (and ornaments) found," Langley told Ars. There are two types of bone arrowheads: some have a pointed end and a blunt end, while others have two pointed ends to have. Many of them show signs of impact damage, meaning that they were fired at least once. "Such bone-made dots with such clear indications of their use during this period are unknown outside of Africa (which are stone dots that are strongly recommended to have arrows flipped early)," Langley said.
One of the points has two sets of short lines etched into its surface. They could be decorations or markings that identify who the arrow belongs to, but they could also have been grooves for holding poison.
Enlarge /. We still don't know if the grooves on this arrowhead were a trademark of the owner or a way to hold poison.
Langley et al. 2020
"Such short, engraved lines have recently been known to hold poison for hunting in place," Langley said. “We may be able to look for residues on this point to find evidence of poison. However, this depends on how well the surface of the piece has been preserved in this tropical context, how the floor was where it has been resting for thousands of years, what type of poison may have been used, and how it was treated before being thrown was lost or lost in antiquity. "
Due to the size of the arrows and the accumulation of animal bones found in the sediment of the cave floor, the earliest spots have likely killed small prey such as monkeys and squirrels. Over time, the points increased, as did the animals that appeared among the cave dwellers' remains: wild boar and deer. Bow and arrow would have been very useful for people who had to hunt in the thick vegetation of a tropical rainforest where it would have been difficult to get enough clearance to throw a spear.
Survival needs more than just hunting
Bow and arrow were just one of the technologies that helped people survive. Langley and her colleagues suggested that some of the bone points be used as a hook shape for freshwater fishing (carp and catfish bones, which also appeared on the site) or as barbs in slings or net traps. However, some of the points were definitely used for arrows; They have small notches that show where they were attached to arrow shafts about 1 cm (0.4 in) wide, and many also show signs of wear.
However, more surprising than the arrows were other tools, including bone awl and leather smoothing tools called lissoirs – the kind of thing you would use to turn plant fibers or animal skins into useful things like clothing or nets. It is difficult to say what they were used for without further evidence such as rock art or a piece of old net. Anthropologists usually view clothing as an invention in cold weather, but Langley and her colleagues say that some types of clothing could also have helped protect people from insect-borne diseases in the tropics.
“Neither clothes nor nets would surprise me very much. Both are innovations that I found very useful in rainforest environments, "Langley told Ars." The shape they take (their design) would probably be the most surprising thing about them – hopefully we'll find something that will unite us in future field work Gives insight into this. "
Advances in Science, 2020 DOI:
https://doi.org/10.1371/10.1126/eaba3831; (Via DOIs).