Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hunters used stone-tipped spears 200,000 years earlier than previously thought

A University of Toronto-led team of anthropologists has found evidence that human ancestors used stone-tipped weapons for hunting animals 500,000 years ago — 200,000 years earlier than previously thought.

"This changes the way we think about early human adaptations and capacities before the origin of our own species," says Jayne Wilkins, a PhD candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Toronto and lead author of a new study in Science magazine. 

"Although both Neanderthals and humans used stone-tipped spears, this is the first evidence that the technology originated prior to or near the divergence of these two species."

Attaching stone points to spears — known as "hafting" — was an important advance in hunting weaponry for early humans, says Wilkins. Hafted tools require more effort and foreplanning to manufacture, but a sharp stone point on the end of a spear can increase its killing power.

Hafted spear tips are common in Stone Age archaeological sites beginning about 300,000 years ago. This new study shows that they were also used in the early Middle Pleistocene, a period associated with the Homo heidelbergensis species, who were the last common ancestor of Neanderthals and modern humans.

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