Indications of Bow and Stone-Tipped Arrow Use 64 000 Years Ago in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

By Lombard, Marlize; Phillipson, Laurel | Antiquity, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Indications of Bow and Stone-Tipped Arrow Use 64 000 Years Ago in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Lombard, Marlize, Phillipson, Laurel, Antiquity


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Introduction

The use of the bow and arrow has been interpreted as an important innovation associated with complex human behaviour during the African Middle-Late Pleistocene period (Sisk & Shea 2009). Hunting with a bow and arrow requires intricate multi-staged planning, material collection and tool preparation and implies a range of innovative social and communication skills. The use of bow and arrow technology has far-reaching implications for the reconstruction of the social, technological and cognitive complexity of its makers.

Thus, hypotheses about the very early use of this technology need to be underpinned by robust, contextualised arguments.

Why stone-tipped weapons?

It has been suggested that the earliest small stone points and backed lithics could indicate early projectile (mechanically projected) hunting technologies (McBrearty & Brooks 2000), but this notion remains to be tested. Stone-tipped weapons may be hand-propelled (as a spear) or mechanically projected (as an arrow). In both cases, the stone tip is attached, or halted, to a shaft or link-shaft made from organic materials such as wood, reed or bone. In East Africa, stone points may have been hafted from roughly 285 000 years ago (McBrearty & Tryon 2006). Southern Africa has an almost continuous proven record of the employment of stone-tipped hunting weapons during the past 100 000 years (Milo 1998; L. Phillipson 2007; Lombard & Clark 2008). The efficacy of stone-tipped hunting weapons has been demonstrated during replication (the latest being Pargeter 2007; Sisk & Shea 2009; Waguespack eta/. 2009; Yaroshevich eta/. 2010), and is prominent in the ethnographic record (Rudner 1979; Ellis 1997). Compared to their organic counterparts, stone-tipped weapons cut through tougher hides, penetrate more deeply and create larger bleeding wounds that kill or immobilise the quarry more rapidly or aid the tracking of injured game (Friis-Hansen 1990). When used to tip weapons, stone is notoriously brittle. This characteristic is sometimes considered desirable because fragments lodged in the prey increase blood loss by enlarging wounds and preventing their closure (Rudner 1979; Ellis 1997) (Figure 1). Where weapon tips with cutting edges were required, stone points or insets provided the answer. By about 45 000 years ago, Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in the Levant probably used complex stone-tipped weapon systems. This suggests that their last common ancestors did likewise, and that the competency to do so developed first in Africa, earlier than 45 000 years ago (Shea 1993, 2006). It remains uncertain when stone-tipped projectile technology was first introduced into the arsenal.

Size and shape as evidence for projectile use

Increasingly, morphometric studies on African Pleistocene stone points are used to imply aspects of function by comparing them with North American ethnographic and experimental specimens. A decrease in the size and weight of stone points has been interpreted to indicate the onset of projectile technology by about 100 000 years ago (Brooks eta/. 2006). In contrast, TCSA (tip cross sectional area) values do not support the widespread use of mechanically projected weaponry earlier than 50 000 years ago (Shea 2006). A study of points from Rose Cottage Cave, South Africa (Figure 2), suggests that people there used projectile technology by around 30 000 years ago (Mohapi 2007). The dimensions of some early African stone points coincide with those of ethnographic/experimental examples of darts or arrows (Shea 2006). Morphometric analysis can assess the potential of artefact classes to function as projectile tips in quantitative terms (Sisk & Shea 2009), but there exists an interpretative shortfall in the method. It must be recognised that not all pointed stone artefacts measured during such analysis were used as, or intended for, weapon tips (L. …

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