Oldest Stone-Tipped Spears Found; Early Humans Started Hafting 500,000 Years Ago

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Scientists have discovered stone-tipped spears used 500,000 years ago, indicating that man had mastered the technology of hafting 200,000 years earlier than previously believed.

A team of researchers from Arizona State University, the University of Toronto and the University of Cape Town found that early humans, the common ancestors of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, had started hafting almost 500,000 years ago. Hafting is a process of attaching sharpened stones to a handle.

The study, titled "Evidence for Early Hafted Hunting Technology," originally published in the Journal of Science, indicates that 500,000-year-old stone points discovered from the archaeological site of Kathu Pan 1 (KP1) in South Africa were used as spears for hunting. 

The team studied the spears found at the Kathu Pan site in the Northern Cape region to determine if these stone points were used as spears or for hand-held purposes.

“The distribution of edge damage is similar to that in an experimental sample of spear tips and is inconsistent with expectations for cutting or scraping tools,” report said.

 “KP1 points exhibit fracture types diagnostic of impact. Modification near the base of some points is consistent with hafting. Experimental and metric data indicate that the points could function well as spear tips…Thus, early humans were manufacturing hafted multicomponent tools ~200,000 years earlier than previously thought,” Report said.

Hafting stone points was an important advance in weaponry for early humans, which allowed them to hunt and kill animals more efficiently. The new data indicates that the human race had started its advancement much earlier than widely believed.

"It's a more effective strategy which would have allowed early humans to have more regular access to meat and high-quality foods, which is related to increases in brain size, which we do see in the archaeological record of this time," said Jayne Wilkins, an archaeologist at the University of Toronto who took part in the latest research, according to the Guardian report.

The earlier studies had indicated that Homo sapiens and Neanderthals had started hunting with hafted spears 300,000 years ago. Though wooden spears dating 600,000 years were found in Germany, these spears were sharpened wooden sticks, the manufacturing of which did not involve a complex process.

The stone-edged spears discovered by the current study involve a complex process of manufacturing the raw material and then assembling it, indicating that the early humans were bright enough to develop the composite process.

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