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Ranged weapons likely contributed to human success against Neanderthals

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posted on Nov, 8 2012 @ 12:29 PM
A series of articles has appeared across the web which may be of interest for those who dabble in the origins of human dominance across the planet.


1 - What made us human? Being ARMED with lethal ranged weapons
2 - An early and enduring advanced technology originating 71,000 years ago in South Africa
3 - Small lethal tools have big implications for early modern human complexity
4 - Humans made projectile weapons 71,000 years ago

While there is no substitute for reading the source material, I humbly offer a layman's synopsis of what the findings have shown, and what some scientists speculate it may mean:

We have been almost continually looking to our past to learn about ourselves as a species on this planet, and the prevalent scientific dogma is best described below:

There is consensus that the modern human lineage appeared in Africa before 100,000 years ago. But there is debate as to when cultural and cognitive characteristics typical of modern humans first appeared, and the role that these had in the expansion of modern humans out of Africa. Scientists rely on symbolically specific proxies, such as artistic expression, to document the origins of complex cognition. Advanced technologies with elaborate chains of production are also proxies, as these often demand high-fidelity transmission and thus language. Some argue that advanced technologies in Africa appear and disappear and thus do not indicate complex cognition exclusive to early modern humans in Africa. The origins of composite tools and advanced projectile weapons figure prominently in modern human evolution research, and the latter have been argued to have been in the exclusive possession of modern humans.

Excavations in the field had showed us that certain "microloiths" - small stone tools crafted by ancient humans - required a relatively complex understanding of a production process. The microliths in question are pictured below:

What makes these microliths particularly noteworthy is the fact that in order to make them, each piece had to be heat treated in a certain way to achieve the edge flaking necessary to make it sharp. These are distinct from the spearheads of the Neanderthals which while heavier, could not have had the killing range of these South African spears.

Until now, the earliest examples of these light - heat treated - spear heads came from sites which had been excavated and shown to be around 60 to 65,000 years old. The find we are talking about here pushes that date back to 71,000 years... and since this strongly implies continuity of the knowledge, it also conveys an inference... that for some 11,000 years, people taught each other how to do this.

Here we describe a previously unrecognized advanced stone tool technology ... on the south coast of South Africa, originating approximately 71,000 years ago. This technology is dominated by the production of small bladelets (microliths) primarily from heat-treated stone. There is agreement that microlithic technology was used to create composite tool components as part of advanced projectile weapons. Microliths were common worldwide by the mid-Holocene epoch, but have a patchy pattern of first appearance that is rarely earlier than 40,000 years ago, and were thought to appear briefly between 65,000 and 60,000 years ago in South Africa and then disappear. Our research extends this record to ~71,000 years, shows that microlithic technology originated early in South Africa, evolved over a vast time span (~11,000 years), and was typically coupled to complex heat treatment that persisted for nearly 100,000 years.

Does this mean that there was a spoken language common to people at the time? Does it not also imply that there had to have developed some kind of teaching culture to pass the knowledge on for thousands of years? It would appear that these primitives had developed significant social advances where others did not.

“When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach, and these early moderns probably also had higher levels of pro-social (hyper-cooperative) behavior. These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe,” said Marean. “This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as Neanderthals.”

This might mean that part of what made humans quintessentially exceptional on the planet was the development of tools which extended our force far beyond our physical reach. "Ranged" warfare could then develop, which might provide the impetus of developing some form of protective "armor" against such encounters with other humans.

The researchers make no mention of the logical need for lighter pears in a coastal society which may have used them for fishing... where heavy spears would be somewhat clumsy and ineffective. But the technology being present at such an early epoch surely shows that human ingenuity was not dormant or underdeveloped even so long ago as 100,000 years.

On a personal note: The UK article from the Register is the only one to insert a superfluous editorial spin about gun control... which should provide a smirk for anyone who sees what I see in what passes for "today's journalism."


edit on 8-11-2012 by Maxmars because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 8 2012 @ 12:38 PM
Not to forget the wooden javelins from 400,000 years ago

Those javelins

I suspect that man learned to throw stones, an ability our hands and stereo vision allows us to do quite well even today. A thrown half pound rock can kill a small animal at 50 paces and enough will stun or injury larger prey and as we tended to hunt in bands, you could overwhelm even larger prey

S & F
edit on 8/11/12 by Hanslune because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 8 2012 @ 12:52 PM
reply to post by Hanslune

I agree that the idea of throwing a sharp or pointy object would be a natural development, but in this case, we are talking about humans recognizing the benefits of heating stones to achieve an otherwise unavailable material for the purposes of making them more lethal or effective to their purpose.

Shaping and sharpening a stick is not necessarily the same as developing a true 'technology' which must then be repeated across generations. Should a population be decimated by nature or war, sticks will still be found by other pockets of survivors... but the operation of creating spear heads using heat treated materials seems more indicative of abstract thought; and a skill which must be passed on, rather than rediscovered.

Still, we were obviously not ignorant of the value of throwing things... so a 400,000 years old javelin seems like a great counterpoint to this article. Thanks.

posted on Nov, 8 2012 @ 12:59 PM
reply to post by Maxmars

Yes I was just adding an aside and agree with your comments above. If you are interested in this aspect of human development you might find want to look at the work of Lawrence H Keeley.

His book War before Civilization, ISBN 0-19-511912-6

You might find this of interest

Another but behind a pay wall

This one also

posted on Nov, 8 2012 @ 07:30 PM
I'll have to spend some time reading those articles, as they sound interesting.

The theory I read somewhere was that Neandertalis was big and brutish, deadly at close quarters, so Sapien had to develop ranged attacks in order to compete for resources.

Thanks for the links.

posted on Nov, 9 2012 @ 10:10 AM
reply to post by Druid42

You are partially correct, H. Neanderthal was adapted to life in the cold forests of eurasia, and was an ambush hunter. He would have used the natural cover to conceal himself and ambushed the animal as they passed closely.
Whereas, H Sapiens, was evolved for life on the warm dry savannah, and we are pursuit hunters. We are superbly adapted to running, we can run most game animals to death. And on the savannah you can only get so close to your prey, so a thrown weapon is a natural development.
I think that loss of habitat, ie the forests retreating during the last glacial maximum, plus the presence of modern humans and possibly new diseases they brought were a much bigger factor than tool tech.
It's clear that in some instances we learned how live in an environment from the neanderthal, in the siberian arctic, neanderthal had adapted to living in the arctic and made chipped bone spear points and blades, and when they were gone we show up with the same tool making tech, in the same place.

posted on Nov, 9 2012 @ 10:55 AM
reply to post by punkinworks10

Unless I am mistaken (and please correct me if I am - I love learning) the Neanderthals did not have the technology we are thinking about here.

These microlith blades had to be treated with heat to properly flake the edges; their northern cousins stuck with a different approach to spear tip making... which necessitated heaver tips... perhaps enabling them to tackle heavier prey.

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