Scientists working in South Africa have unearthed the oldest-known spear tips, apparently made by a common ancestor of people and Neandertals around 500,000 years ago.
About 13 percent of more than 200 stone points found at a site called Kathu Pan 1 display modifications and damage consistent with having been attached to spear handles and hurled at animal prey such as springbok, say Jayne Wilkins, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and her colleagues.
“These were close-range weapons, either thrusting spears or spears thrown from fairly short distances,” Wilkins says.
Human ancestors were regularly killing game by 780,000 years ago in the Middle East, as evidenced by remains of butchered deer carcasses. Until now, the earliest stone spear tips came from a Neandertal site in France dating to between 300,000 and 200,000 years ago. Wooden spears from 400,000 years ago have been found among the remains of butchered horses in Germany
More than 200 spear tips excavated from the Kathu Pan 1 site in South Africa are being called the oldest in the world. The 500,000-year-old weapons are thought to have been crafted by Homo heidelbergensis, a common ancestor of modern humans and Neanderthals, who then hafted them to handles and used them to hunt prey. The advanced age for the points was obtained through soil analysis, and if the dates are correct, it would follow that Homo sapiensand Neanderthals shared similar abilities when it came to making hafted stone tools. These points send this hunting technology back 200,000 years.