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Human ancestors threw stone-tipped spears at prey

African finds indicate people weren’t first to hurl weapons from a distance

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3:00pm, November 19, 2013

FLIGHT TIP  Damage on the edge of a stone point dating to between 279,000 and 260,000 years ago at Ethiopia’s Gademotta site indicates that the point was part of a spear thrown at animals. The red area is a temporary labeling stain.

Stone points unearthed in East Africa served as the business ends of the earliest known throwing spears, which human ancestors used to hunt prey around 279,000 years ago.

Hand-cast spears, consisting of sharpened obsidian tips attached to long, presumably wooden handles, allowed ancient members of the human evolutionary family to hunt animals from a distance and avoid dangerous confrontations with prey, say archaeologist Yonatan Sahle of the University of California, Berkeley and his colleagues. Although some researchers have regarded this type of sophisticated toolmaking as exclusive to Stone Age people, discoveries at Ethiopia’s Gademotta site put throwing spears in the hands of humankind’s immediate ancestors, the scientists conclude November 13 in PLOS ONE.

Until now, evidence of hand-cast spears dated to no earlier than about 80,000 years ago.

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