Ancient blades served as early weapons

African find reveals complex toolmaking 71,000 years ago

Archery may be an ancient pastime. Humans started making the components for arrows at least 71,000 years ago, archaeologists report online November 7 in Nature.

ANCIENT ARCHERY Humans fashioned tiny stone blades, probably tips for arrows, as early as 71,000 years ago, a new study finds. Simen Oestmo

This reproduction demonstrates how Stone Age people might have hafted small stone blades to a wooden shaft to make arrows. Benjamin Schoville

Kyle Brown of the University of Cape Town in South Africa and his colleagues unearthed thin stone blades at South Africa’s Pinnacle Point cave that appear to be arrow tips. The tiny artifacts were made from a type of stone called silcrete that had first been heated to make the rock easier to chip. Blunt edges indicate that people had hafted the blades onto wooden shafts to use with a bow or spear-thrower.

The team found the arrow points — which predate the next oldest evidence of arrows by several thousand years — throughout cave sediments spanning 11,000 years. The timing not only reveals that humans had the intellect to make bows and arrows back then, but also that they could pass on complicated instructions to build multipart tools over hundreds of generations, the researchers say.

Erin Wayman

Erin Wayman is the magazine managing editor. She has a master’s degree in biological anthropology from the University of California, Davis and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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