Archaeologists excavating a cave on the southern coast of South Africa have recovered remains of the oldest known complex* projectile weapons. The tiny stone blades, which were probably affixed to wooden shafts for use as arrows, date to 71,000 years ago.
To craft the stone points, the people at PP5-6 first had to locate and collect a specific type of stone called silcrete. They then had to gather wood and transport it to a designated spot to build a fire to treat the stone, heating it to just the right temperature to make it easier to shape. After carefully chipping away at the rock to form tiny, sharp blades, they made mounts for the blades from wood or bone, and joined the stone to the mounts with mastic to create composite tools in the form of arrows or darts.
Brown and his collaborators conclude by noting that this projectile technology, which allows one to attack from a safe distance, would have given modern humans a significant edge during hunting and interpersonal conflict as they spread out of Africa into Europe and encountered the resident Neanderthal equipped with handheld spears. McBrearty agrees, writing, “if they were armed with the bow and arrow, they would have been more than a match for anything or anyone they met.”