Become a fan of Slashdot on Facebook


Forgot your password?

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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Narrowing Down When Humans Began Hurling Spears

Comments Filter:
  • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:45PM (#43775433) with rules scratched into them regarding Spear Control.

  • 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 sycodon ( 149926 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:03PM (#43775605)

      The Romain Empire used concrete extensively, even hydraulic cement (cures under water).

      After the Empire fell, they went back to building with rocks.

      • by punman ( 412350 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:40PM (#43775919) Journal

        The Romain Empire used concrete extensively, even hydraulic cement (cures under water).

        After the Empire fell, they went back to building with rocks.

        Lettuce hear more of this Romaine empire ...

      • by Antipater ( 2053064 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:50PM (#43776003)

        The Incas created structures that are nigh-earthquakeproof, using nothing but rocks (no mortar, cement, or other binding agents). Their cutting and grinding was so precise that when the joints were assembled, a blade of grass could not be inserted at any point.

        Never underestimate the power of rocks.

        • "Never underestimate the power of rocks."

          Shameless pro-troll propaganda, Detritus.

        • That is nonsense.

          First of all: nothing is earthquake proof.
          Second: as you dont know how they did their "binding agents" I wont enlight you, google for your own. Your claim they did not use any is plain wrong.

          • First of all, do you know what "nigh" means?
            Second, I'm assuming you're talking about adobe and mud? Yeah, they used that, but for buildings that were not important. Just because they could do high-quality work doesn't mean they made everything high-quality. Source [], Source2 []
          • earthquake resistant then. They way they formed the top of each stone and the bottom formed a type of 'copy' so the rocks would stay in place instead of slide around on the stone below. Obviously this would wear on the stones to some degree and a really powerful earthquake would overcome the cope, but as time has shown, they put enough cope on the stones to handle the earthquakes in the region for a good long time.

          • by cusco ( 717999 )
            Their binding agent is called 'gravity'. I highly recommend that you go there and see it before you start babbling about 'binding agents' and dry stone construction.

            On the other hand you probably don't know anything about what the Incas actually used for binding agent in their adobe, and which the Peruvians use to this day. It's called 'paja', a high-altitude bunch grass that is amazingly strong. When green attempting to pull up a handful of it will slice your hand open as though it were fishing line.
        • by sycodon ( 149926 )

          Everyone knows that the Aliens built those.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The Romain Empire

        So that's why it's called caesar salad

      • Someone had to start it up.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:05PM (#43775639)

      It is said it could cleanly cut through a falling silk scarf.

      I thought at first that the manufacturing process was lost because it was kept a trade secret. However, this paper [] finds that the superior properties of the steel come from impurities that were present in the original iron mine. When iron from a different mine used used, the steelsmiths were unable to reproduce the original's properties. Within a generation, production was entirely abandoned.

      • by alen ( 225700 )

        yeah, but did it shine like Valyrian steel?

        • by dido ( 9125 )

          Perhaps they are one and the same thing. George R. R. Martin's descriptions of Valyrian steel in the books are very much like real-life Damascus steel, featuring the same distinctive rippled patterns that Damascus steel is famous for.

      • 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.

      • Having a sword so sharp that it could cut through a falling scarf seems rather impractical because it would be impossible to maintain that sharp edge for long under regular use (no matter how good the steel is).
        • Doesn't matter, you get the steel as sharp as it can get. The worst that can happen is it takes longer to get blunt.

          • Steel has its limits. If the edge is too thin to handle the forces it gets subjected to, it buckles, chips, and curls instead of simply blunting. If the edge hits a shield or your enemy's armor, it is automatically ruined. It would take a highly-skilled smith to fix that kind of damage and even then the blade wouldn't be as good as it was before because of metal fatigue. This is why you never go edge-to-edge with a sword!

            Super-sharp edges are for precision work. If you're using a hack-and-slash weapon, yo

            • If you're using a hack-and-slash weapon, you want a thick bevel because it will still tear through your enemy with minimal damage to itself if you put enough force behind it.

              I think it was Honest Abe who said, "if I had six hours to cut down a tree, I'd spend four hours sharpening the axe".

              You make your edge as sharp as you can because if you don't your enemy who has a sharper edge will kill you first. A lot about hand to hand combat with edged weapons has been lost to time, but one thing that hasn't is that you aren't trying to protect your sword, you're trying to protect your life.

              Serrated edges never gained popularity because they get caught on or in what they are trying to

              • If what you say is true, then why do most axes (even new ones) have a coarse bevel? A mace would be a far better choice than a sword if your foe is wearing armor. Why slash your enemy to death when you can crush his bones and cause him to bleed out instead?
                • cause him to bleed out instead

                  I meant to say bleed out internally instead.

                • It's not just me saying it, Honest Abe too: []

                  Believe it or not, it's the truth. Having not purchased a large selection of axes recently I can't speak to how sharp they are on average, but the last one I bought was very sharp indeed. I sharpened it up further before using it. A blunt axe is an accident waiting to happen.

                  A mace is a decent weapon against armour. But there are entire fighting styles based around slashing

                  • by dryeo ( 100693 )

                    For falling you want a sharp axe as you want to cut through the fibers. For splitting you want a dull axe as you're wedging the fibers apart and a sharp axe will get stuck much easier then a dull axe. By dull I mean the edge rounded, not square.
                    The last Arvika I bought. I was really pissed off that someone had given it a razor edge, much worse for splitting, which is what I purchased it for. If I wanted to use it for throwing, cutting down hardwoods or building a log home then it would have been up to me to

                    • And in combat are you cutting through fibers or splitting them? I've split large logs with a small knife by using wedges cut off the sides which were about as far from sharp as the edge of a spoon; we aren't talking about that here.

              • skill is an extreme advantage. go to a local SCA event. Though they use blunt stick weapons, they can demonstrate that the first effective* strike drastically reduces the opponents ability to strike back.

                The sharp edge matters for sure, but skill outweighs it by an order of magnitude.

            • "Adding a serrated edge would probably be even more effective against soft targets because it tears out chunks and causes more trauma"
              not really the case, the serration causes a lot of surface damage but doesn't drive deep because it gets bound on fleshy parts, a smooth, moderate bevel with good weight will go deeper and cause a quicker death (typically). Keep in mind that an opponent might only have enough blood pressure to handle a single half-strength swing after a major arterial cut where a serrated te

          • I thought that the kinds of steel that are difficult to blunt (= take longer to get dull) are also difficult to sharpen. As in, I have a kitchen knife that is fairly easy to shapen into a very keen edge, but it also gets dull fairly quickly and needs to be sharpened quite frequently.
            • It's not important how easy it is to get sharp, all that matters is you get it as sharp as it will go and use it. If you have to spend two hours sharpening a sword that is good for ten whacks in battle, that's better than a sword you spend half an hour sharpening that stays sharp for three whacks.

              • What I meant is that such a long-lasting blade probably will be difficult to hone into a falling-silk-cutting edge. But then again, you don't do that often in battle, do you?
                • I believe there were some reports of warriors not only sharpening but straightening their weapons mid-battle, but yes on principle you don't want to have to break out the whetstone as the second wave of berserkers descends on you.

            • Try Shun steel knives. Not too expensive on sale (relatively speaking, a good knife is not cheap, $100 isn't too much for a superior chef's knife), they will draw first blood I guarantee. They are knives that deserve and get a high level of respect lest you bleed everywhere (both have caused me to ruin dinner by bleeding on ingredients). The ones I have are full tang,100% metal.

              They stay sharp far longer than any knives I've ever owned. I sharpen them myself with a 4 stage sharpener, razor sharp for at

    • I think biologically they were little different from ourselves, so they were less 'creatures' than 'people'.

      • But environment has a huge influence over biology. Think of a goldfish floating around in a bowl on your kitchen countertop. Now look at these babies []. I think that is a good analogy for the stimulating effect of environment on the modern mind. Think of how hard it was for the first europeans in the west to recognize the natives as fully human. I realize the conventional wisdom is that these europeans were practically deranged by prejudice. But it is also true that, due to circumstances, the natives h
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      Our ancestors will not have that problem. They will be reminded by copyrights, patents and trademarks

    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
    • by grcumb ( 781340 )

      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.

      Travel back in time?!? Feh, it wasn't that long ago. I remember it well.

      At least, September 1993 [] was when I started hurling sharp objects....

  • And also, (Score:4, Funny)

    by M0j0_j0j0 ( 1250800 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:52PM (#43775507)

    Archaeologists also found evidence that the main damage was on creatures skulls , which led them to the conclusion: Aimbot!!!

    • by chill ( 34294 )

      My thoughts exactly. Look for the cave paintings of the mammoth with a spear in the head and a "BOOM! Headshot!" comment etched.

      Keep an eye out for all the "Noob! You stole my kill!" comments below it as well.

  • So, when I read the title, somehow I thought the point was going to be that once we started throwing spears at one another the race got narrower to be less of a target.

    Interesting angle, but it would be hard to prove from fossil records. Maybe though, it's why we have an engrained preference for the skinny! Our progeny will be a poorer target!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

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

    • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:07PM (#43775655) Homepage

      Maybe though, it's why we have an engrained preference for the skinny!

      I doubt you mean skinny like the sacks of antlers they call super models, on the other end there are cultures that think people who have a body shape like a beach ball are ideal. There have been several studies I have seen that in general indicate that a more curvy body shape for women is preferred by men. There is something to be said about having some fat and still looking healthy that was probably selected for in prehistoric times since that would be a good indication that you could provide for your self and were of good health.

  • by wcrowe ( 94389 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @02:58PM (#43775569)

    I am reminded of the Thagomizer [].

    As dangerous as hunting large prey was, I imagine it did not take long to go from attaching a sharp rock to the end of a long stick, to throwing the long stick. When facing "the Thagomizer" the mental leap probably occurred in about a minute :-)

    • Re:The Thagomizer (Score:4, Informative)

      by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:03PM (#43775607)

      Throwing a spear takes some practice to be at all effective with it, especially at any sort of range when facing something that could either escape and make you starve, or kill you so you'd never have to worry about starving again. It's not like a rock where you can get reasonable aim with a few practice throws, especially a spear large enough to take down big game using a stone or flint tip.

      • Oh, and there's also the fact that once you throw the spear, you're unarmed if you miss and the thing charges.

      • There are also some not-immediately-obvious additional technologies [] which make spears substantially more effective.

        • by tsotha ( 720379 )

          Yeah I would think just throwing a pointed stick is a pretty ineffective strategy. But using another stick to give yourself a little leverage, along with bone tips instead of stone, makes it a pretty deadly weapon.

          The atlatl, of course, is in a class by itself. That's an awesome piece of engineering.

          • Yeah I would think just throwing a pointed stick is a pretty ineffective strategy. But using another stick to give yourself a little leverage, along with bone tips instead of stone, makes it a pretty deadly weapon.

            The atlatl, of course, is in a class by itself. That's an awesome piece of engineering.

            The 'just throwing a pointed stick' might actually work; but require group endurance-hunting strategies(which are arguably a flavor of technology, albeit applied political science, rather than material science or engineering). At low speed, a pointy stick is unlikely to be very swiftly lethal; but(especially if it lodges in the wound) it will slow you down and cause continued bleeding and local tissue tearing.

            Hunters who are equipped to work together to keep on the track of game as it slowly weakens would p

  • I believe it was about third grade

  • by k6mfw ( 1182893 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @03:14PM (#43775705)
    Og comes up with a superior spear, shares it with rest of tribe ("its open source") but gets taken to court for because he was not licensed. Og documents his experience (drawings in a cave) but someone yells copyright infringement and drawings are erased.
  • I believe we started hunting *with* spears.
  • the first politician appeared in our history then that might be a good place to start.
  • 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.

    • 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.

      What you're describing is the guys who didn't pass along their genes to the next generation.

      Throwing a spear leaves you unarmed. Throwing it at something charging you leaves you CLOSER to the thing charging you, and unarmed.


    • by tsotha ( 720379 )
      But the moment you throw that heavy spear you're going to realize there's no point. A throwing spear is quite a bit different in construction - you have to make it with throwing in mind.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday May 20, 2013 @04:17PM (#43776209) Homepage

    Early humans were not significantly stupider than us modern humans. They were pretty creative in how they solved their problems, and it was their quick thinking that got humanity to the point where we had enough free time to figure out later innovations like bronze, plaster, and agriculture.

    A great example of this: They figured out the basic concept of cooking. Apes don't do that, and it allowed humans to eat things that other animals couldn't eat, and meant that humans were far less likely to get sick from what they ate. And while it seems like an obvious thing now, it wasn't at all obvious 125,000 years ago: You first had to get the idea of controlling and later building fires, then the idea of trying to use that fire to make plants you couldn't eat into plants you could eat (perhaps combining them with water), and the idea of heating meat over the fire, and observing that if you cooked your food before eating it you were less likely to get sick.

  • The general consensus is that Homo sapiens neanderthalis did not use throwing spears and it was the Homo sapiens sapiens who did this innovation. Seems to generally agree with the consensus estimates of the departure of the original stock breaking out of Africa some 70000 to 50000 years ago.

    In a related note it was there is an recorded instance of Boreopithecus redmondonis that hurled chairs.

  • Now I can upgrade the Man v. Neanderthal first-person stabber that I've been working on to a first-person thrower.

  • I remember reading somewhere that some anthropologists narrowed down the inventions of the club when skulls starting thickening :)

  • That's when the first spear was used.

  • They tried to kill it, but then the beast got passed them. One of the hunter, Grok, we will call him, got pissed, god mad, didn't understand why life was so fucked up, and threw his spear at the beast. He scores a hit! Does it bring the best down? Who knows, but what we do know is the viral nature of human beans, and suddenly, everyone was getting frustrated and throwing shit around.

MESSAGE ACKNOWLEDGED -- The Pershing II missiles have been launched.