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Hurling old spears

by Bruno Van de Casteele

March 2, 2014

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Donate I never cease to be amazed on what archeology can learn us. It's amazing that, based on a couple of artefacts who were lucky to survive, we can deduce a lot about our ancestors. Of course, as with all good scientific research, some innovative approach and hard work is needed too.

Take for instance the following research. Corey O'Driscoll from Australia wanted to find out more when spears where first used. Now there have been indications that spears were in use even 500 000 years ago. But this is mainly based on finding triangular stone artefacts and dating methods that have been discussed by other researchers. Also, any marks found on bones could also be attributed to the butchering process, and not necessarily to the hunting itself.

In this case, O'Driscoll first did what they call "experimental archeology". Together with colleague Jessica Thompson (also from Australia), they created stone-tipped spears and hurled them at animal carcasses. Then they examined the bones to see what the results of these impacts were. They learned two things. Firstly they established identification criteria of the impact. Secondly, they learned that within those impacts, stone fragments can be found.

They then went to some old bones looking for those same characteristics. In a paper (presented on a congress)they analysed three bones from South Africa. One of them only has a tiny stone fragment, but the other two bones (between 90 000 and 100 000 years old) clearly match the characteristics identified earlier.

The implications, if confirmed, are far-reaching. Being able to hunt from a distance not only makes you more efficient, it also shows advanced reasoning skills both in creating the spear and planning your hunting. And sadly, these advanced skills and new technology were probably immediately used for attacks between humans too. But that seems unavoidable with any technology ...

In any case, some fine research work with fascinating results. And all that with (relatively) limited means, some hard work and only two old bones.

As with most of my archeology news, thanks to the fabulous Archeology News Podcast and its related site, Stone Pages.


by Bruno Van de Casteele

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