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'Hi tech' projectile weapons made humans dominant species

The development of 'high tech' long range weapons 71,000 years ago in Africa gave modern human ancestors the killing edge which helped them to become the dominant species, according to a new study.

November 08, 2012 / 06:55 PM IST

The development of 'high tech' long range weapons 71,000 years ago in Africa gave modern human ancestors the killing edge which helped them to become the dominant species, according to a new study.


Findings in South Africa suggest that by the time modern human ancestors began to spread across the planet they had developed advanced weapons that made them more than a match for Neanderthal rivals. Research on stone tools and Neanderthal anatomy strongly suggests that our now-extinct sister species lacked true projectile weapons, the Daily Mail reported.


"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) behaviour," said Curtis Marean, project director and Arizona State University professor in the Institute of Human Origins.


"These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe," Marean said. "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," Marean added.


The findings at Pinnacle Point, near Mossel Bay, also suggest that modern man may have evolved in this region as the Stone Age technology found only took hold in other areas of Africa and Eurasia about 50,000 years later.


"Every time we excavate a new site in coastal South Africa with advanced field techniques, we discover new and surprising results that push back in time the evidence for uniquely human behaviours," said Marean.


The study found that the technology focused on the careful production of long, thin blades of stone that were then blunted on one edge so that they could be glued into slots carved in wood or bone.


This created light armaments for use as projectiles, either as arrows in bow and arrow technology, or more likely as spear throwers, known as atlatls. The stone used to produce these special blades was carefully transformed for easier flaking by a complex process called 'heat treatment', a technological advance also appearing early in coastal South Africa.


This microlithic technology appear briefly between 65,000 and 60,000 years ago during a worldwide glacial phase, and then was thought to vanish, showing what many scientists accept as a 'flickering' pattern of advanced technologies in Africa.

This pattern was thought to result from small populations struggling during harsh climate phases, inventing technologies, and then losing them due to chance occurrences wiping out the artisans with the special knowledge. "Eleven thousand years of continuity is, in reality, an almost unimaginable time span for people to consistently make tools the same way. This is certainly not a flickering pattern," Marean said.

first published: Nov 8, 2012 06:53 pm

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