Scientists discover stone spear tip 200,000 years older than previously known specimens
The new discovery in South Africa suggests that it was neither our species nor Neanderthals that pioneered the use of such spears, but our shared ancestor Homo heidelbergensis.
We already knew that Homo heidelbergensis could fashion wooden spears – a 500,000-year-old horse shoulder blade from Boxgrove, UK, has a semicircular hole in it that suggests it was pierced by a spear. "But the hole's bevelled edges and circular shape are not suggestive of a stone-tipped weapon," says Jayne Wilkins at the University of Toronto in Ontario, Canada.
Stone points used on spears had been found only at sites that date back no more than 300,000 years, and that are associated with Neanderthals or archaic members of our species.
That gives huge significance to a new discovery by Wilkins and her colleagues in 500,000-year-old deposits at Kathu Pan in South Africa. The team unearthed a hoard of stone points, each between 4 and 9 centimetres long, that they think belonged to the earliest stone-tipped spears yet found. The stone points are the right shape and size for the job, and some have fractured tips that suggest they were used as weapons.