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Ancient projectile weapons have been recovered close to the Gademotta Formation, an ancient, collapsed volcano crater in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia. These javelin style weapons which are tipped with obsidian points are believed to be the oldest of such weapons ever recovered. Preliminary testing suggests that they are at least 280,000 years old. Prior to this incredible discovery, it has been assumed that human beings were not capable of creating such complex weaponry until approximately 200,000 years ago.
Oldest known projectile weapons recovered in Ethiopia
During the Middle Pleistocene, when these weapons were forged and used the landscape of the region was fundamentally different to the one experienced today. Archaeologists working on the site have said that the area was overlooking a mega-lake during that period which would have encompassed the four separate lakes that are now in the region. This would have made the area a major watering hole for wild animals which probably means that it was rife for hunting. The fossilized remains of antelopes, crocodiles, hippos and other large mammals have been recovered from the area, and the obsidian tipped javelins appear to have been well used which seemed to confirm this theory, but the archaeologists were keen to do further tests.
According to Yonatan Sahle, an archaeologist on the project the team examined the fractures in the tips of the javelins to determine how they had been damaged. Previous studies have found that when damage is incurred at high speeds, then the fracture wings tend to be much narrower. The fracture wings on these particular artifacts such that they were thrown at incredibly fast speeds, approximately 3345 miles per hours. This suggests that the weapons were thrown at animals during hunting.
“The implication is that certain behavioral traits that are considered complex and mostly only the domains of anatomically modern humans—such as the capacity to make and use projectiles—were not only incorporated into the technological repertoire of the African early Homo sapiens but also had earlier roots and were present in populations ancestral to Homo sapiens, ” Sahle said. The archaeological team believes that the javelins were probably used by Homo heidelbergensis, who is believed to be a common ancestor of both modern human beings and Neanderthals.
These discoveries were first detailed PLOS ONE.
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