The oldest stone-tipped projectile weapons date to 280,000 years, study says.
© TD White
The discovery of stone-tipped projectiles in Ethiopia like the one pictured above may have been used for striking animals from a distance.
The oldest known stone-tipped projectiles have been discovered in Ethiopia. The javelins are roughly 280,000 years old and predate the earliest known fossils
of our species, Homo sapiens
, by about 80,000 years.
These javelins are some 200,000 years older than previous examples of similar weapons, suggesting that modern humans and their extinct relatives had the know-how to create these sorts of complex thrown projectiles much earlier than often thought.
Scientists investigated stone tools
unearthed at the Gademotta Formation on the flanks of an ancient, large collapsed volcanic crater in central Ethiopia
's Rift Valley.
"Today, the area represents a ridge overlooking one of the four lakes in the vicinity, Lake Ziway," said researcher Yonatan Sahle, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley.
During much of the Middle Pleistocene, about 125,000 to 780,000 years ago, "the area was overlooking an even bigger paleolake - a megalake composed of today's four separate lakes." Antelope and hippo remains have been recovered from the grassy, forested site.
The oldest artifacts at the site are roughly 279,000 years old. In comparison, the earliest known fossils of Homo sapiens
, previously discovered at sites elsewhere in Ethiopia, are about 200,000 years old.
Pointed artifacts with damage suggesting they were used in spears are common at the site. The researchers focused on 141 such obsidian artifacts.