Friday, November 16, 2012

Stone me! Spears show early human species was sharper than we thought

Cutting edge technology: early humans were lashing stone tips to wooden handles to make spears about 200,000 years earlier than we thought, research suggests. Photograph: Jayne Wilkins

Evidence of hunting with spears 500,000 years ago suggests common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals was 'very bright'

The ancestors of humans were hunting with stone-tipped spears 500,000 years ago, according to a new study – around 200,000 years earlier than previously thought. This means that the technology must have been developed by an earlier species of human, the last common ancestor of both modern humans and Neanderthals.

The invention of stone-tipped spears was a significant point in human evolution, allowing our ancestors to kill animals more efficiently and have more regular access to meat, which they would have needed to feed ever-growing brains. "It's a more effective strategy which would have allowed early humans to have more regular access to meat and high-quality foods, which is related to increases in brain size, which we do see in the archaeological record of this time," said Jayne Wilkins, an archaeologist at the University of Toronto who took part in the latest research.

The technique needed to make stone-tipped spears, called hafting, would also have required humans to think and plan ahead: hafting is a multi-step manufacturing process that requires many different materials and skill to put them together in the right way. "It's telling us they're able to collect the appropriate raw materials, they're able to manufacture the right type of stone weapons, they're able to collect wooden shafts, they're able to haft the stone tools to the wooden shaft as a composite technology," said Michael Petraglia, a professor of human evolution and prehistory at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the research. "This is telling us that we're dealing with an ancestor who is very bright."

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