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Narrowing Down When Humans Began Hurling Spears 208

sciencehabit writes "Archaeologists have long debated when early humans began hurling stone-tipped spears and darts at large prey. By throwing a spear, instead of thrusting it, humans could hunt buffalo and other dangerous game from a safe distance, with less risk of a goring or mauling. But direct evidence of this hunting technique in early sites has been lacking. A new study of impact marks on the bones of ancient prey shows that such sophisticated killing techniques go back at least 90,000 years ago in Africa and offers a new method of determining how prehistoric hunters made their kills."
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Narrowing Down When Humans Began Hurling Spears

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  • by koan ( 80826 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:49PM (#43775485)

    I'll bet if we could travel back in time and watch these creatures innovate we would have far more respect for their ingenuity in their time.
    I'll bet they came up with solutions we wouldn't think of that were lost to time.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:01PM (#43775589)

    We don't have an engrained preference for the skinny. The "preference for the skinny" is actually only an extremely recent cultural phenomenon.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:26PM (#43775791) Journal

    The history of ironworking in general is a total mess: Not only were the best techniques(at any given time and place) some combination of trade secrets and National Security Stuff, leading to dubious recordkeeping, iron and most iron alloys corrode enthusiastically, often leaving archeologists to stare at an intriguing-looking rust stain and puzzle from there.

    Then(as in the case of Damascus steel, as you mention) the properties of iron(actually a pretty lousy material, pure) change quite dramatically with the addition of relatively small amounts of various alloying agents, frequently ones that weren't even identified as distinct substances(much less 'identified' as 'elements') until centuries later, in addition to being sensitive to heating/cooling parameters and any other treatments affecting crystal structure.

    There were improvements over time, of course; but until fairly recently, with modern metallurgy and chemistry, even a good-faith effort by the original craftsman to share his technique would likely leave us with considerable puzzling left to do.

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:38PM (#43775909)

    I suspect it would be more accurate to say that innovation was extremely inconsistent pre-history. I haven't any doubt that many, many things were invented dozens or hundreds of times, only to be lost when the guy died, or his son decided not to carry on the tradition, or some disaster fell that made them abandon specialization. Once you start writing stuff down, in a way that can be shared with others and understood generations later, you don't have everyone starting from scratch every time something goes wrong any more. You start to build the hill that becomes the mound that becomes the mountain that is our present knowledge of the world.

  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @04:11PM (#43776163)

    Is there any evidence that there was any delay at all?

    Seems to me once you have the intelligence to make and use a spear, it ill only be days at most before you're gonna try throwing it, at least partly because throwing whatever you have in your hand is what you would automatically do if you've got some pissed-off large animal (such as one thats just been prodded with a pointy stick) chasing you.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @05:17PM (#43776585)

    I'd speculate that humans used pikes as soon as they found 'em and threw 'em if it suited the situation.. it's not exactly rocket science.

    A pike is 20 feet long (6 meters for you SI types), and not something that can be thrown effectively by anyone shorter than about 15 feet (4.5 meters).

    Even knowing it can be done, actually getting a spear to fly point first is a non-trivial accomplishment.

    Doing it for the first time ever? It may not be rocket science, but it's pretty damn close.

    In other words, just because an idea is old to YOU doesn't mean it was easy for that first guy who ever had it...

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.