Discovery of 280,000-Year-Old Javelin Challenges Current Beliefs on Evolution
A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed a discovery that serves to challenge a number of adamant and self-assured scientists who have refused to believe that pre-human species had the intelligence to construct complex tools or weapons.
A group of scientists investigated a number of stone-tipped projectile weapons that were unearthed at the Gademotta Formation on the surrounds of an ancient volcanic crater in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley. Incredibly, the weapons date back 280,000 years which is 200,000 years older than previous examples of similar weapons, and 80,000 years older than the earliest known fossils of our species, Homo sapiens.
It is a victory for ‘alternative’ archaeologists who have advocated for the intelligence of pre-human hominid species, and who have maintained for years that Neanderthals and other extinct relatives were not just primitive brutes, but had language, culture, and the ability to create tools, weapons and other equipment.
It also supports another recent study which put forward the possibility that it was the Neanderthals who taught the humans how to create tools.
The sharp-tipped artefacts were used as javelins, most likely to strike animals like antelope, crocodiles and hippos from a distance. A total of 141 obsidian spear tips were studied and many of them contained damage, which most likely occurred during hunting.
"We were only interested in testing the hypothesis that these tools were definitely used to tip spears," said researcher Yonatan Sahle, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley. "The eureka came much later as we did the analysis and found out that the features we were dealing with were the result of throwing impact, not thrusting."
The invention of projectile weapons was a major advance over thrusting spears carried in hand because they enabled prehistoric hunters to strike at a distance, reducing the risk of injury from dangerous animals and broadening the range of prey that they could hunt. Such weapons are considered signs of complex behaviour that many scientists attributed to modern humans. However, the current study shows that such behaviour didn’t begin with humans.
"The implication is that certain behavioural traits that are considered complex and mostly only the domains of anatomically modern humans—such as the capacity to make and use projectiles—were not only incorporated into the technological repertoire of the African early Homo sapiens, but also had earlier roots and were present in populations ancestral to Homo sapiens," Sahle said.
Stone-tipped hunting spears appear in the fossil record beginning about 500,000 years ago. However, these were thrusting spears, not thrown javelins. Until now, the oldest conclusive evidence dated such projectiles at 80,000 years old.
Shea cautioned not to assume that these javelin tips are the oldest or the first. "It's often assumed that the earliest discovery of anything is the first instance of anything," Shea said. "This is just the oldest example we have so far of this technology—it doesn't mean that this is where it first evolved."