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Hunting weapons of the Middle Stone Age and the Middle Palaeolithic: spear points from Sibudu, Rose Cottage and Bouheben

Southern African Humanities Vol. 18 (1) Pages 89–122 Pietermaritzburg November, 2006
Hunting weapons of the Middle Stone Age and the Middle
Palaeolithic: spear points from Sibudu, Rose Cottage
and Bouheben
1Paola Villa and 2Michel Lenoir
1University of Colorado Museum, UCB 265, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0265,
2Institut de Préhistoire et Géologie du Quaternaire, PACEA-UMR 5199
du C.N.R.S., Université Bordeaux 1, 33405 Talence, France;
This paper compares Middle Stone Age points from two South African sites, Sibudu and Rose Cottage,
with points from Bouheben, a Middle Palaeolithic/Final Acheulian site in SW France. The Sibudu unifacial
and bifacial points, from post-Howiesons Poort assemblages dated between 60 and 37 ka, have been previously
identified as spear points; their diagnosis is strongly supported by both morphometric and impact fracture
analyses. Our paper shows: a) that the Rose Cottage unifacial points and the Mousterian points from Bouheben
can also be interpreted as hand-delivered spear tips; b) that the range of throwing spears has been
underestimated, and c) that there is no reason to restrict interpretation of early hunting behaviour to placing
the prey in a disadvantaged position and killing at close quarters. We review recent research on the appearance
of long-range projectile technology in Africa and in Europe and provide support to statements by John Shea
that strong evidence of the use of spearthrower dart tips and arrowheads occurs only at sites younger than
50–40 ka.
KEY WORDS: stone points, Middle Stone Age, Middle Palaeolithic, South Africa, Western Europe, thrusting
and throwing spears.
The idea that scavenging was an important pattern of subsistence behaviour in the
Lower and Middle Palaeolithic of Europe and in the African Middle Stone Age was
first suggested by Binford (1981, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988). According to his general
model, scavenging was a regular behaviour during the Oldowan, the Middle Stone Age
(MSA) and the Middle Palaeolithic (MP), but there was through time a gradual increase
in the importance of hunting until about 35 000 b.p. According to him, the MSA and
MP people were behaviourally primitive. Later, Stiner (1994, 2002) argued that
Neanderthals practiced a flexible and opportunistic scavenging mode alternating with
hunting, based on evidence from two MP sites in Italy (Grotta Guattari and Grotta dei
Moscerini). This hypothesis was widely accepted, but in a series of insightful and
compelling papers Curtis Marean and colleagues (Marean 1998; Marean & Assefa 1999;
Marean & Kim 1998) have shown that interpretations of scavenging, proposed by Binford
and Stiner, are based on faulty data and should be rejected. In fact, there is at present no
evidence to support a hypothesis of regular scavenging activities, whether by MSA
people or by Neanderthals and earlier European hominids (McBrearty & Brooks 2000;
Roebroeks 2001; Villa 2004; Villa et al. 2005 and references therein).
Data from many Eurasian sites (e.g. Schöningen in Germany; Mauran, La Borde,
Coudoulous I, Biache St. Vaast and La Quina in France; several sites in the Caucasus)
show that hunting, not scavenging, was the main method of meat procurement in the
Lower and MP and that, in this respect, Neanderthals and earlier humans in Europe did
not differ from Upper Palaeolithic or modern humans. Neanderthals hunted a wide
range of prey, from mammoths and rhinoceroses (Callow & Cornford 1986) to brown
bears (Auguste 1995) and large to medium-size ungulates, such as bisons, aurochs,
horses, cervids and wild goats (Adler et al. 2006; Bar-Oz et al. 2004; Chase 1999;
Farizy et al. 1994; Gardeisen 1999; Gaudzinski 1996; Hoffecker 1999; Hoffecker &
Cleghorn 2000; Jaubert et al. 1990). As in the case of the MSA, the practice of hunting
throughout the MP is no longer in doubt.
If hunting, not scavenging, was the main method of meat procurement by
Neanderthals and earlier hominids, what kind of weapons did Neanderthals use to
dispatch their prey? Did they use stone-tipped spears? As we will see, this question
is especially appropriate for the Western European record which has, until now,
provided good evidence only for the use of wooden spears at the sites of Schöningen
and Lehringen in Germany (Thieme 1997, 2000; Thieme & Veil 1985; Veil & Plisson
1990). The use of the Clacton ‘spear point’ is less certain since it was recovered
outside its archaeological context (Oakley et al. 1977). In this paper we address
the question of MP hunting weapons using comparative data from two MSA sites
in South Africa.
In South Africa and in the Near East several scholars have concentrated their attention
on lithic points of the MP/MSA and their functional interpretation. In Western Europe
studies of MP points as possible hunting weapons have lagged behind. European
archaeologists should not neglect the significant advances on this topic achieved in
other regions for the same period.
Residue, microwear and impact scar analyses of 50 MSA unifacial points from the
rock shelter of Sibudu in South Africa by Lombard (2005a, b), and technological and
morphometric analysis of a large assemblage from Sibudu’s layer RSp by one of us
(Villa, Delagnes & Wadley 2005), have shown that these artefacts should be considered
as tips of hand-delivered spears. In our research on the lithic assemblage from layer
RSp (dated ~50 ka by OSL; Table 1), we examined a number of variables used by
different authors who have studied prehistoric weapons technology, namely, the tip
cross-sectional area (TCSA) (Hughes 1998), the penetrating angle, the maximum width,
and the frequency of basal thinning. Comparisons with archaeological (North American
and European Upper Palaeolithic) and ethnographic data for the first three variables
indicated to us that the Sibudu points were the tips of either thrusting or throwing
Similar conclusions had been reached for the Levant MP points based on research
and experimental work by Shea (Shea 1993, 1997, 2003, 2006; Shea et al. 2002). These
are strongly supported by the discovery of hafting traces (bitumen residues) on the
proximal part of artefacts and of a Levallois point embedded in a wild ass cervical
vertebra from the site of Umm el Tlel in Syria, dated to about 60 ka (Boëda et al. 1996,
Recently Shea (2006) conducted extensive statistical analyses of many Levallois and
retouched unifacial and bifacial points from the MP in the Levant, and from the Still
Bay and post-Howiesons Poort phases of the South African MSA. He compared the
TCSA of these MP/MSA artefacts with well-documented archaeological and
ethnographical examples of North American spearthrower dart tips and arrowheads.
The TCSA has been considered the best means to distinguish armatures of different
weapon systems, whether arrows, spearthrower darts, or throwing or thrusting spears
(Hughes 1998; Shea et al. 2002). Shea’s statistical analyses strongly indicate that the
MP/MSA points were used to tip hand-cast spears and, further, that there is no evidence
for the use of stone projectile points in Africa, the Levant and Europe prior to 40 ka.
Note that the term ‘dart’ to indicate stone-tipped spears thrown with a spearthrower is
common in the North American literature on prehistoric weapons and will be used
In his research, Shea acknowledges that his sample of Western European materials
(2 Mousterian points and 12 Levallois points in the Peabody Museum at Harvard)
is too small to be significant. Undoubtedly the study of possible spear points in the
MP record of Western Europe is a neglected topic, in clear contrast to research
trends in South Africa and in the Near East. Three factors probably account for
this lack of attention to the identification of stone points as possible hunting weapons
in Western Europe.
1. The influence of Bordes’s typology (1961), which gives great importance to
scrapers and tends to lower the significance of pointed forms by merging them
into the general ‘convergent scraper’ category. Thus pointed forms are thought
to be rare in the European MP, which appears to be dominated by scrapers.
2. Research by H. Dibble (1984a, b, 1987a, b, 1988, 1989, 1995a, b) on the effects
of intensive reduction of formal tools and the idea that convergent scrapers are a
reduced form of double scrapers.
3. A few microwear analyses showing that convergent scrapers had been mainly
used to work wood (Anderson-Gerfaud 1990; Beyries 1988a, b).
These three issues are addressed in some detail below.
Low frequency of points in the Mousterian
As noted elsewhere (Villa, Delagnes & Wadley 2005) the impression of a low
frequency of points in Mousterian assemblages in comparison with the African MSA is
at least in part due to different ways of counting artefacts. What is called a unifacial
point in South Africa corresponds to different types in Bordes’s list (i.e. Mousterian
points, convergent scrapers, déjeté scrapers, Tayac points and other pointed forms with
limited retouch). Depending on the details provided by analysts, it is sometimes possible
to count Mousterian pointed forms as it is done in South Africa. Thus, high frequencies
of pointed forms do occur in some Mousterian assemblages (e.g. Biache, Vaufrey Layer
VIII and Castelcivita; Villa, Delagnes & Wadley 2005: table 6). This is also true of
Bouheben, the site presented below, where the frequency of pointed forms in Layer 2 is
32 % (100 of 312 formal tools), comparable to frequencies in the RSp layer of Sibudu,
which has 32.8 % of unifacial points and 7.3 % of broken distal tips. Another assemblage
which appears to be very rich in pointed forms is from Bérigoule (SE France), an open-
air Ferrassie Mousterian site, which may date to the last part of OIS 5 (J. Jaubert pers.
comm.). We expect that more cases will be recognized if we can attract the attention of
analysts to the subject.
Convergent scrapers and Mousterian points: a question of scraper reduction?
According to Dibble (1984a, b, 1987a, b, 1988, 1989, 1995a) the morphology of
convergent scrapers is the consequence of intense reduction. Based on his analyses of
scrapers from Bisitun (a MP cave in the Zagros mountains, Iran) and several French
Mousterian sites, he suggested that convergent scrapers tend to be smaller and more
intensively retouched than double scrapers. The angle of convergence of the two sides
of convergent and double scrapers does not indicate a bimodal distribution. He concludes
that convergent and double scrapers were not conceived to perform separate tasks, but
formed a single population and that the morphology of convergent scrapers was simply
the result of continuous resharpening of the working edges of double scrapers. For him
it is not possible to distinguish between heavily reduced convergent scrapers and
Mousterian points.
Paul Mellars has provided a comprehensive and clear discussion of this hypothesis
(1996: 110–17) and we agree with his conclusion that several features weaken Dibble’s
hypothesis, especially the evidence of basal trimming and microwear traces of hafting
on Mousterian points and convergent scrapers from Corbiac and Biache St. Vaast
(Anderson-Gerfaud 1990; Beyries 1988a). For Mellars this evidence strongly supports
the hypothesis that at least in some cases these forms were deliberately intended for a
specific function involving the use of a haft.
Microwear analyses
According to Anderson-Gerfaud (1990), there is no evidence for the use of projectiles
and virtually none for butchery in her sample of Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition
tools. However, we should notice that she analysed only 11 convergent scrapers from
the site of Corbiac (Anderson-Gerfaud 1990: table 13) and no Mousterian points. Traces
of hafting were noticed by Sylvie Beyries (1988a) on points and convergent scrapers
from Level IIA of Biache St. Vaast, which has a TL date of 175 ± 13 ka. According to
her, traces caused by hafting were present on tools with convergent edges, which had
been chiefly employed for working wood. It is not known how many pieces she examined
as she reports only on seven pieces, two of which were asymmetrical and are unlikely
to have functioned as spear points. Other traces of hafting were observed by Beyries
(1988b) on convergent scrapers from Grotte Vaufrey Layer VIII (Typical Mousterian),
but the number of observations is not provided.
In sum, while positive evidence for the use of spear points in the MP of the Near East
has been provided by the work of John Shea, the situation is different in Western Europe
where most work has been concentrated on the study of Upper Palaeolithic points.
According to Mellars (1996: fig. 4.17), the strongest argument for the existence of
spear points has been advanced by Paul Callow (1986) for a few Mousterian points
from the site of La Cotte de Saint-Brelade in the Channel Islands. Out of nine Mousterian
points in Layer 5, dated to OIS 6, four exhibit burin-like or flute impact scars; two
others had been repaired after break and are less sure. Still, the scarcity of detailed
studies of pointed forms in Western Europe is striking.
Our analysis addresses this issue by providing information on points from
Bouheben, a Middle Palaeolithic/Final Acheulian site in SW France, and using
comparisons with MSA points from two well-documented South African sites,
Sibudu and Rose Cottage
Fig. 1. Maps of South Africa and France showing the location of Bouheben (Aquitaine region, France),
Rose Cottage (Free State) and Sibudu (KwaZulu-Natal).
Why Bouheben?
The reason for selecting the Bouheben assemblage for comparison with the South
African sites was simply a matter of studying an assemblage that was available, was
well-excavated and had a high frequency of pointed forms. As indicated before, only
few of the published MP assemblages in Western Europe are reported as having high
frequencies of Mousterian points. Biache Level IIa (Dibble 1995b; Tuffreau & Sommé
1988), the Castelcivita Mousterian (Gambassini 1997) and Bérigoule (Texier & Jaubert
1991) are under current analysis by other researchers and are not yet available for
independent study. The Vaufrey Level VIII yielded 26 points (Rigaud 1988), but only
two were found when Soressi and PV analysed the assemblage (Villa & Soressi 2000).
The site and its age
Bouheben is an open-air site in the département of Landes in the Aquitaine basin,
located on a low plateau at about 117 m above sea-level. Excavations were conducted
by the late Claude Thibault in 1964 and from 1967 to 1969. Preliminary reports (Thibault
1970, 1976) describe the site and the lithic materials, which come from an excavated
surface of 43 m2. According to Thibault, the site was originally very large (3 000 m2)
but was partly destroyed by a farm building, pathways and digging of ponds. Bone was
not preserved.
The stratigraphic sequence is 2 m thick; the archaeological materials occur only in
the upper part of the sequence.
Layer 1, clayey-silty sands, 20 cm thick, with a Mousterian level at its base;
Layer 11, silty-clayey sands, 15 cm thick, with a second Mousterian level, also at
its base;
Layer 2, indurated clayey-silty sands, 40 cm thick, with rubble at the base and an
Upper Acheulian/Mousterian level, 10 cm thick.
The top of Layer 1 was marked by a recent soil and the upper part of Layer 2 was also
marked by a weathering horizon, interpreted as Riss-Würm (Last Interglacial) soil. A
pollen diagram for the base of Layer 2 indicated a dry, cold climate. There are no
absolute dates to confirm the original assignment to the end of Riss, that is, Oxygen
Isotope Stage 6 (OIS 6).
The excavated assemblage from Layer 2 contains more than 4 500 artefacts. The
total number of tools (excluding unretouched Levallois flakes and knives with a natural
back) is 312 and there are 12 bifaces. Based on the presence of bifaces, Thibault suggested
a typological attribution to the Upper Acheulian. Biface assemblages different from the
Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition, which in this region is dated to OIS 3 (see below),
persist in the region apparently until the end of the Middle Pleistocene, as indicated by
the site of Barbas I in the Dordogne region (Boëda et al. 2004). Layer C3 at Barbas I,
dated to 147 ± 28 and 146 ± 29 ka by two TL dates, contained 167 bifaces, more than
40 000 flakes and fragments resulting from the making of bifaces (documented by
numerous refitting), and about 2 000 flake tools.
At La Cotte de St. Brelade (Jersey, Channel Islands), Layer A is also characterized by
small flint bifaces (n = 66 whole, plus 4 broken), larger quartzite and dolerite bifaces
and cleavers (n = 20), and large numbers of small flake tools of MP character (2 516 of
flint and 137 of quartzite and dolerite), with abundant side scrapers, various pointed
forms (convergent and déjeté scrapers with thinned butts, Mousterian points) and other
‘evolved’ types such as end scrapers and burins. Like Barbas I, Layer A is dated to OIS
6 (Callow & Cornford 1986). Barbas I and La Cotte Layer A prove that assemblages
without bifaces, which appear in Western Europe already during OIS 8 and OIS 7,
continued to coexist until the end of the Middle Pleistocene with assemblages with rare
bifaces and a repertoire of flake types in many respects indistinguishable from Mousterian
industries of Upper Pleistocene age (Santonja & Villa in press).
Fig. 2. 1, 2: two quartzite bifaces from Bouheben. These were collected by amateurs prior to the excavation
and come very probably from Layer 2, as confirmed by the occurrence of two other large quartzite
bifaces found in situ in Layer 2 (Villa 1983: fig. 37.2). 3, 4: two small flint bifaces from Layer 2.
Like Barbas I and La Cotte, Layer 2 from Bouheben has many MP flake tools
associated with a small number of bifaces. Four bifaces are made on large quartzite
cobbles with few invasive removals and lengths of between 10 and 19 cm; of these
two are worked on one face only and are classed as pointed unifaces (Villa 1983:
fig. 37.2). These bifaces resemble the typical Acheulian bifaces from the Garonne
and Tarn terraces, also made on quartzite cobbles (Santonja & Villa in press).
According to Thibault, there are only five flakes and 22 flake fragments of quartzite
at Bouheben; this suggests that most bifaces were worked elsewhere and transported
to the site. Two other quartzite bifaces were found by amateurs prior to excavation
and very probably come from the same layer (Figs 2.1 & 2.2; Villa 1983: fig. 45).
A second set of six bifaces from Layer 2 consists of much smaller bifaces with
lengths of 5–7 cm. Five were made on flint (Figs 2.3 & 2.4) and one was on a
quartzite flake. The flint bifaces are unlike the cordiform bifaces of the Mousterian
of Acheulian Tradition, which in SW France is dated between 65 and 40 ka (Soressi
2002). In conclusion, the assignment of Bouheben Layer 2 to the end of the Middle
Pleistocene, although unconfirmed by absolute dates, is strongly supported by the
quartzite bifaces which are typical of the regional Acheulian.
Layer 11 has about 2 200 artefacts and is very similar to Layer 2 in terms of debitage
and retouched pieces (mainly scrapers). Levallois debitage is present but not predominant
in both levels, and there are a few blades; direct percussion by hard hammer was used
for the production of blades and flakes. Layer 11 also contains a small flint biface and a
flake cleaver. A comparison of this assemblage to that of Layer 2 in terms of percentage
frequencies of the full range of types listed in Bordes’s typology shows that the two
assemblages are practically identical (see the two cumulative frequency curves in
Thibault 1970: fig. 98). Both can be classed as MP.
The sample (Figs 3–5)
The total sample of pointed forms is 125. Twenty-five are from Layer 11. The reasons
for combining materials from the two layers are: a) the two assemblages are very similar
technologically and typologically; b) the points have similar dimensions (mean length
is 57.5 mm in Layer 2 and 54.3 mm in Layer 11; mean thickness is 11.2 mm in Layer 2
and 11.3 mm in Layer 11) and similar frequencies of bulbar thinning; and c) specimens
in both assemblages have impact scars.
Most artefacts from Bouheben are made of Senonian flint, which outcrops at about
6 km from the site. A few artefacts are made of a banded flint which comes from the
Basque region to the south; the region is farther away, but the specific source has not
been identified. Almost all artefacts have a white patina and some are slightly desilicified;
Fig. 3. Bouheben, Layer 2, all flint and all on flakes unless specified. Authors following Bordes’s typology
call these Mousterian points (1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11), elongated Mousterian points (3, 7), and
convergent or déjeté scrapers (4). These attributions are based on the acuteness of the point, its
thickness in profile and bilateral symmetry. A déjeté scraper is a convergent scraper whose
morphological axis does not coincide with the debitage axis. Authors following South African
conventions would call these unifacial points or partly bifacial points. 1, 2: Mousterian points
with ventral thinning at the tip. 3, 7: elongated Mousterian points on blade. 4, 5: Mousterian
points with basal thinning (4 is passing to convergent scraper). 6, 8–11 are regular Mousterian
points with no special features.
thus the level of identification of microwear traces is very low and residue analysis is
excluded. However, morphometric studies and studies of impact scars are possible.
These are among the principal ways of identifying spear tips.
We have included all Mousterian points and elongated Mousterian points. Other
pointed forms such as convergent scrapers and déjeté scrapers, so classed following
Bordes’s (1961) typology, have been included in the data base, unless they had a round
Fig. 4. Bouheben, Layer 2, all flint and all on flakes unless specified. 1: Mousterian point passing to convergent
scraper. 2: Mousterian point on a Levallois flake. 3: elongated Mousterian point with basal thinning,
on a blade. 4, 6–8: Mousterian points with basal thinning. 5, 9, 10: regular Mousterian points.
or blunt distal end or were too asymmetrical. In Bordes’s typology distinctions between
convergent scrapers and Mousterian points are based on the acuteness of the point, its
thickness in profile and bilateral symmetry. Thus we followed traditional classificatory
procedures for preliminary sorting, prior to detailed analysis of attributes expressing
tool design (e.g. blank type, bulbar or lateral thinning, and kind of retouch) and
morphometric features that can be recorded and replicated by others with relative ease.
Fig. 5. 1–7 from Bouheben, Layer 11; 8, 9 from Sibudu. 1: Mousterian point on a Levallois flake. 2, 5, 7:
Mousterian points with basal thinning (only 2 shows the basal thinning). 3: elongated Mousterian
point on blade. 4: Mousterian point on flake. 8: bifacial point (Sibudu layer Ore). 9: unifacial
point (Sibudu layer MOD).
For people unfamiliar with Bordes’s typology we note that a déjeté scraper is a convergent
scraper whose morphological axis does not coincide with the debitage axis. There are no
unretouched Levallois points at Bouheben. Note that we use the term déjeté scraper following
the example of Mellars (1996) and Dibble (1987) because its common English translation,
‘canted’, is also used to mean an oblique platform angle (Inizan et al. 1999).
The stratigraphic sequence of Sibudu spans four MSA phases: a pre-Still Bay, the
Still Bay, the Howiesons Poort and the post-Howiesons Poort. Unifacial and bifacial
points come from the post-Howiesons Poort levels and their chronology is indicated in
Table 1. The excavated area (until 2005) varies from 2 m2 for the lower part of the
sequence to 18 m2 for layer RSp and up to 21 m2 for the top part of the sequence (east
section in Table 1; Wadley 2005; Wadley & Jacobs this volume).
Our data base (n = 322) is comprehensive for layers at the top of the sequence in the
east section of the excavation and for layers RSp to MOD in the north section. All
points from these layers have been analysed; they represent 74 % of the total sample.
Points from layers below RSp (indicated in Table 1) represent artefacts that were found
in preliminary sorting; thus the latter group may be incomplete (e.g. missing broken
tips); they are included because the sample is quite large (70 pieces). We have excluded
from our sample some trihedral points whose thickness and length makes them unlikely
as spear tips; we have also excluded poorly represented levels. Our data base includes
East section Age (ka) North section OSL age
(in ka)
Co 37.1 ± 1.5
Bu 36.7 ± 1.7 ka (OSL)
42.3 ± 1.3 (14C)
LBMOD 50.4 ± 1.8
MC, Es
Mou, DMou, LMou
Ore, PB MOD 49.7 ± 1.8
OMOD 50.3 ± 2.1
RSp 48.4 ± 1.7
*Bran Mu
*BSp 61.3 ± 2.0
*SS, Ch 56.2 ± 1.9
*Ma, MY
*BO, Iv, P 64.1 ± 2.9
Post-Howiesons Poort and final MSA layers at Sibudu; only those that have yielded pointed forms in our
sample are listed. They are in stratigraphic sequence together with their revised OSL dates (Jacobs et al.
submitted; Wadley & Jacobs this volume). Their combined thickness is about 1.5 m. Comprehensive
samples of pointed forms come from layers RSp to Co. Points from other layers are incomplete samples
(indicated with an asterisk). Layers Co to Ore in the east section are at the top of the sequence and are not
represented in the north section (Wadley 2005).
Fig. 6. Bifacial and unifacial points from several layers at the top of the Sibudu sequence (cf. Table 1). 1, 3:
bifacial points with concave base (also called hollow-based points) from layers Es and Mou. 2:
unifacial point with impact scar at the tip, 7.0 mm long, and basal thinning, from hearth above
MOD. 4: bifacial point from layer Mou. 5: unifacial point from layer LMou; the tip was damaged
and subsequently retouched, the basal thinning was obtained with one large removal on the ventral
Fig. 7 1–4 from Rose Cottage, all opaline. 1: unifacial point (layer LOU – Howiesons Poort level) with a
small scar at the tip, on the ventral face, 2.3 mm long, considered non-diagnostic of impact. 2:
unifacial point (layer BYR). 3, 4: unifacial points from layer THO (3 has a burin-like scar on tip
profile, 4 mm long; 4 is on a Levallois flake). 5–9 from Sibudu, layer RSp, all hornfels. 5:
unifacial point. 6: unifacial point/borer; the tip is thick (thicker than the drawing indicates) but
sharp. 7: partly bifacial point, tip has recent damage. 8: unifacial point, burnt on left side; the base
is broken but it may be deliberate, the tip has a small ventral scar, perhaps by impact (cf. Donahue
et al. fig. 2A). 9: unifacial point, the base is broken, the point is thick but acute.
41 specimens that would be classed as convergent scrapers in Bordes’s typology. Unless
specified, they are not included in the statistics.
The analysed sample consists of 272 specimens, which we have grouped in three
subsamples: layers below RSp, layers RSp to MOD and final MSA layers from the east
section. There are 36 bifacial points and 12 partly bifacial points, which come almost
exclusively from layers at the top of the sequence MOD to Co); the rest are unifacial
points. In all these layers the two most common raw materials are hornfels and dolerite;
the fine-grained hornfels is clearly the preferred raw material (75.5 %). Dolerite is 20.6
% and the rest is represented by 11 pieces of quartzite, quartz and chert; the latter is a
unique specimen in layer MOD apparently with no corresponding debitage (Figs 5–7).
This cave, about 20 m long and 10 m wide, is located in the eastern Free State at 1
676 m elevation. The distance between Sibudu and Rose Cottage is about 400 km. The
cave faces north and is therefore warmed by the sun in winter and shady in summer. It
is also protected by a large boulder in front of the cave (Wadley 1997). Excavations
conducted by B. D. Malan between 1943 and 1946 and by P. Beaumont in 1962 were
not published, but the MSA materials excavated by Malan were re-examined by Wadley
and Harper (1989). Their study showed that the site had a long and important
stratigraphic sequence, but Malan’s materials, and those excavated by Beaumont and
later analysed by Kohary, do not have stratigraphic integrity. Malan excavated in
arbitrary levels and Beaumont’s materials were mixed in Kohary’s analysis because
she misunderstood the stratigraphy.
The Later Stone Age (LSA) and final MSA deposits were again excavated between
1987 and 1997 under the direction of Lyn Wadley down to a depth of 2 m and are dated
by a number of radiocarbon dates in a consistent stratigraphic sequence from 28 000
b.p. (layer Ru with a final MSA industry) to the Holocene (Wadley 1991, 1996, 1997,
The older MSA levels were excavated between 1989 and 1991 by Harper, under the
guidance of Lyn Wadley, over approximately 8 m2 left intact by previous excavations.
He published a preliminary analysis of the Howiesons Poort and post-Howiesons Poort
levels (Harper 1994, 1997). Our sample consists of all points from the post-Howiesons
Poort levels and comes from the 6 m2 in the centre of the cave plan (Fig. 8).
The post-Howiesons Poort levels (BYR to KAR, Fig. 9) were clearly distinguishable
from the Howiesons Poort layers by their texture, often quite sandy, and generally lighter
colour, especially BYR and THO. Other levels between BYR and THO (PAN, CLI,
LIN, ANN) were rich in charcoal and brown to dark brown. Two series of dates are
available for the post-Howiesons Poort sequence: OSL dates by the Risø laboratory on
sediment samples (Cochrane 2003) and TL dates on burned lithics (Valladas et al. 2005).
The dates are presented in Table 2.
In the post-Howiesons Poort levels there are 43 unifacial points, seven tips of unifacial
points and five bifacial and partly bifacial points (Figs 7.1–7.4). The Howiesons Poort
levels contained only one unifacial point from layer LOU in the middle of the sequence; it
is included in our sample. The main raw material is opaline (equivalent terms are chalcedony
and opal), a siliceous rock that formed as lenses 5–15 cm thick, or as roundish nodules,
similar to geodes, as a result of intense chemical weathering of the Drakensberg basalt
(Early Jurassic) to the east. Opaline nodules from the eroded outcrops were carried by
tributaries to the Caledon River which runs 10 km from the site (Wadley 1997). Opaline is
a fine-grained raw material, of variable colours from opaque red and light brown to green;
the geode-like nodules can be translucent or whitish. The knapping quality is generally
very high. The blanks collected by the Rose Cottage people show two kind of outer surfaces:
natural surfaces corresponding to fissure planes present in the rock and alluvial cortex. The
rounding of ridges and surface polishing by the river transport was minimal since the
blocks have preserved their angular shapes; well-rounded small opaline cobbles are very
rare. Thus, most blanks are water-rolled quadrangular blocks or slabs of small dimensions,
generally less than 6 cm in size (Soriano et al. in press).
Fig. 8. Rose Cottage excavation area. The Howiesons Poort and post-Howiesons Poort assemblages are
from Harper’s excavation (in the centre of the plan), approximately 6 m2 (squares If, Ig, Ih, Hf,
Hg, Hh). After Wadley 1997.
We outline our reasons for using traditional classificatory procedures and for excluding
certain pieces in our analysis. Analyses of stone points from prehistoric kill sites have
shown that the attributes necessary for the proper functioning of a device to kill a large
animal are: a sharp point to penetrate the hide and sharp edges to open a hole for the
remainder of the point and shaft (Frison 1978: 337–8). Tip design is critical for the
penetration of a low-velocity weapon (Hughes 1998). Since our purpose was not to
define morphological types statistically and rigorously, but to see if it is possible to
identify some of the main features of hypothetical spear points in Western European
assemblages, we chose a pragmatic approach. Systematic, consistent attribute analyses
Fig. 9. Rose Cottage, cross section of the MSA layers excavated by Harper. The post-Howiesons Poort
layers are from BYR to KAR. The Howiesons Poort layers (66–59 ka) are EMD to SUZ; LEN to
KUA are pre-Howiesons Poort.
of large series of artefacts based on multivariate statistical techniques, for the purpose
of checking objectively if artefacts form separate clusters, are time consuming and it
seems more appropriate to investigate the cognitive structure of the artisan’s mind. By
using a fixed set of established attributes we simply adopted the least costly approach
to sorting, ready to accept a certain degree of classificatory distortion. After all,
Neanderthals and other early humans probably dedicated only a few minutes a day to
the task of making stone tools. There is no doubt that preparing a wooden spear shaft
designed for throwing or thrusting was a much lengthier process than making a stone
point (Veil & Plisson 1990). We should also make clear that our type classes are simple
and broadly defined; they are not fundamental units of observation and do not determine
analytical objectives; nor do we assume that they have a specific functional meaning.
They are mainly vehicles for conveying information, prior to morphometric and impact
scar analyses which support our interpretations.
Researchers who have studied prehistoric weapon technologies have looked at a
number of variables, mainly a) the maximum width (which is, at least in part, related to
the width of the shaft); b) the penetrating angle; c) the tip cross-sectional area. We have
included other measurements, such as weight, maximum length and thickness; all these
are often provided by different authors and are given here for the sake of completeness.
Morphometric analyses have been used either independently (Hughes 1998; Shea 2006)
or in combination with observations of impact scars (Geneste & Plisson 1989; Plisson
& Geneste 1989; Plisson & Schmider 1988) to investigate the possible use of stone
points as weapons; they are provided here as we consider them a necessary prerequisite
to understand the variables that enhance the success of a particular kind of hunting
Table 3 and Figure 10 show that the Rose Cottage points are much smaller than the
Bouheben and the Sibudu points. The Sibudu and Rose Cottage post-Howiesons Poort
Layer TL (ka) Layer OSL (ka)
LYN LYN 33 ± 2
THO 47.1 ± 10.2
CLI 49.4 ±10.1
BYR 50.5 ± 4.6 BYR/ANN/LIN 57 ± 3
Chronology of post-Howiesons Poort MSA layers at Rose Cottage (Cochrane 2003; Valladas et al. 2005).
The older Howiesons Poort and pre-Howiesons Poort layers are not indicated. Note that, in Cochrane
2003, the OSL dates are given as an average date for three layers at the base of the post-Howiesons Poort.
Layers in bold have yielded points.
and final MSA samples cover a similar span of time (60–37 ka for Sibudu; 57–33 ka for
Rose Cottage) yet the Sibudu points are significantly larger (t = 13.654, p < 0.001). A
trend toward decrease in point size has been suggested for two sites, in Ethiopia and
Botswana, dated to OIS 4 by Brooks et al. (2006). According to these authors, the small
size of those MSA points indicate that they were tips of spearthrower darts or arrows
and that projectile technology appeared much earlier than in Europe (where it is
documented only in the Upper Palaeolithic). There is no evidence of a trend toward a
smaller size within the Rose Cottage sequence: the smallest piece actually occurs in the
middle of the sequence, in layer THO. At Sibudu, points above RSp from the top part of
the sequence in the east section (final MSA) and points from below RSp have similar
The small size of the Rose Cottage points does not appear to be a deliberate choice,
but is dependent on blank size. Seventy-four percent of the points are made of opaline.
The mean length of all opaline blades at Rose Cottage is 26.8 ± 7.2 mm; the mean
length of opaline flakes is 25.1 ± 5 mm (flakes < 20 mm are excluded). Note that flakes
were the preferred kind of blanks for points, representing 96.2 % of the total. The mean
Sites Mean SD Min Max n
Bouheben 57.4 14.5 28 96 95
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 46.9 10.6 30 73 19
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 41.8 10.2 24 71 64
Sibudu, layers below RSp 45.3 11.2 28 74 42
Rose Cottage 36.6 88.7 23 60 43
Length in mm of complete points. Unless specified, all samples, in this and the following tables, do not
include convergent scrapers.
Fig. 10. Length of points.
length of points is larger, at 36.6 ± 8.7 mm. Only four points have lengths between 50
and 60 mm; they are made on hornfels and tuff flakes. These are rare raw materials;
both were occasionally imported into the site as blades or flakes; there are no cores in
these raw materials. Volcanic tuff occurred in the form of alluvial cobbles; it was derived
from the Drakensberg volcanics and transported by the Caledon River, like the opaline
(Wadley 1997). The source of hornfels is unknown but it was not flaked at the site. We
conclude that the largest available blanks were selected for point manufacture and the
small point size is not the result of deliberate reduction.
In general in these industries, the size of retouched pieces is dependent on the size of
the available blanks. We can take the case of the Howiesons Poort backed pieces, which
are often interpreted as tips for arming spears (Deacon & Deacon 1999). Their function
and the fact that they were hafted (Gibson et al. 2004; Lombard this volume) may be
expected to control their sizes closely. The control on size variability is actually not
very strong. At Sibudu the backed pieces of hornfels and dolerite from layers GR and
GR2, GS and GS2 and associated lenses and hearths have a mean length of 34.7 ± 10.3
mm (n = 34); the few crystal quartz backed pieces, not considered here, are a special
case (Delagnes et al. this volume). The mean length of backed pieces at Rose Cottage is
27.3 ± 7.4 mm (n = 39). Not surprisingly, the blades at Sibudu are on the average
10 mm larger than the Rose Cottage blades. In other words, the backed pieces of Sibudu
are significantly larger than the Rose Cottage backed pieces (t = 10.66; p < 0.001) just
like the unifacial points of Sibudu are larger than the Rose Cottage points. In both cases
the original size of the unworked raw material was an important determinant of the tool
size. This is less obvious than it seems: although retouched pieces cannot be larger that
the original size of the raw material, they can be much smaller. For instance, Aurignacian
assemblages contain both macrolithic and microlithic components from the same raw
materials. At Arcy-sur-Cure there are large retouched blades with an average length of
90–120 mm; the Dufour bladelets have a mean length of 30 mm; in both cases the raw
material is the same Senonian flint (Schmider 2002).
There has been much discussion about the value of weight as a conclusive criterion
for classifying points. North American archaeologists, interested in separating dart tips
from arrowheads, have concluded that the amount of overlap between the two point
types may be too substantial to be really useful (Christenson 1986). The range of weight
for North American arrowheads (n = 132) and hafted dart tips (n = 10) from museum
collections is 0.3–17.4 g and 1.6–7.9 g respectively. The sample of dart tips is really too
small to be representative and may underestimate the heavy end of the distribution. The
statistics from our assemblages (Table 4) show a decrease in weight from Bouheben to
Sites Mean SD Min Max n
Bouheben 18.9 10.7 3.9 58.9 94
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 10.7 84.6 3.4 19.3 16
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 11.9 87.1 3.1 31.5 38
Sibudu, layers below RSp 14.2 10.2 4.1 54.0 39
Rose Cottage 85.2 82.7 1.1 12.0 40
Weight in grams
Sibudu (top of sequence, i.e., final MSA). Rose Cottage is the only one whose values
fall close to the dart tips.
Tip cross-sectional area (TCSA)
As indicated before, this measurement is considered the best means to distinguish
armatures of different weapon systems, whether arrows, spearthrower darts, or throwing
or thrusting spears (Hughes 1998). The formula to calculate the TCSA is maximum
width x maximum thickness and the value can be cited in cm2 or mm2. The TCSA is one
of the variables that influences penetration of a low velocity weapon. Penetration of
15 cm is considered the minimal depth to cause significant bleeding in humans, whereas
20 cm is the minimum depth for large ungulates (Hughes 1998). For deep penetration
the TCSA must be as small as possible.
The Bouheben (MP and all pointed forms) and Sibudu values (Table 5) fall well
within the range of throwing or thrusting spears, as given by Shea (2006; Table 6). The
Rose Cottage points instead have values close to those of dart tips. However, a t-test
shows that the means of the dart and Rose Cottage tips are actually significantly different
(t = 18.19, p < 0.001). The reason for this clearly depends on the fact that the TCSA
maximum values of the Rose Cottage points (max.= 192 mm2) are much greater than
those of dart tips (max.= 94 mm2), and that the Rose Cottage points are thicker than the
darts (Table 9). We also note that the TCSA value of convergent scrapers at Bouheben
exceeds those of ethnographic and historic spear tips and should be excluded from
Sites Mean SD Min Max n
Bouheben (MP only) 165.0 67.2 50.0 322 70
Bouheben (CS) 232.0 94.4 70.0 420 31
Bouheben (All Pointed Forms except CS) 177.0 73.0 50.0 375 98
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 116.2 41.5 45.0 200 21
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 117.7 57.6 19.5 294 71
Sibudu, layers below RSp 139.4 60.0 54.0 320 42
Rose Cottage 478.0 33.0 19.5 192 47
Tip cross-sectional area data in mm2. For Bouheben three calculated means are given: Bouheben MP for
Mousterian points only, Bouheben CS for convergent scrapers and forms intergrading between the two
types, and Bouheben All Pointed Forms (CS excluded).
Samples Mean SD Min Max n
Arrowheads 33 20 8 146 118
Dart tips 58 18 20 94 40
Spear tips 168 89 50 392 28
Tip cross-sectional area data for ethnographic and recent archaeological hafted stone points (from Shea
2006), in mm2. Note: in a previous paper (Villa, Delagnes & Wadley 2005), we used TCSA mean values
of 67 (expressed in square cm, i.e. 0.67 cm2) for spearthrower (atlatl) darts and a mean of 47 (0.47 cm2)
for arrowheads. Our values were estimates provided by Hughes (1998: table IV). Shea has used direct
calculations of Thomas’s data and a larger sample for dart tips, provided by Shott (1997). We use here
Shea’s data; however, the differences are minor and do not change our interpretations for Sibudu layer
RSp (Villa, Delagnes & Wadley 2005: 412) whose points have a mean TCSA of 126 mm2, SD = 61.2,
min.= 19.5, max.= 294, n = 58, hence fall within the range of hand-delivered spear tips, like the rest of
the Sibudu sample.
There is a trend toward a smaller TCSA within Sibudu: the mean TCSA of the top of
the sequence is 116.2 ± 41.5 mm2; for the layers below RSp the mean is larger: 139.4 ±
60.3 mm2. However both values fall comfortably within the limits of the thrusting/
throwing spears given by Shea (see Table 6). Whether some of the smallest Rose Cottage
points may have been used as dart tips is a hypothesis that could be entertained, but can
be excluded without any doubt for both Bouheben and Sibudu.
Penetrating angle
The tip penetrating angle is the tip angle seen in plan view and measured in degrees
(also called the front angle) (Peterkin 1997). This angle can be measured on complete
and incomplete points as long as the distal part is preserved. We measured the tip angle
using the caliper method based on measuring width at a fixed distance (1 cm) from the
tip. The angle was then calculated using a trigonometric formula (Dibble & Bernard
The smallest values are those for Rose Cottage and for the ~60 ka layers of Sibudu
(Table 7). Yet the mean of 62° is still significantly larger (t = 12.45; p < 0.001; calculated
for the Rose Cottage sample) than that of Solutrean laurel leaf points (Table 7), which
have the widest angle of all other Upper Palaeolithic points (Peterkin 1997). The
Solutrean bifacial laurel-leaf points are more robust and heavier than most other Upper
Palaeolithic points and may have been used as tips for thrusting spears (Peterkin 1997:
514). All other Upper Palaeolithic points studied by Peterkin and generally considered
as composite weapon armatures (backed points, shouldered and tanged points, and foliate
points of the Magdalenian) have much smaller penetrating angles. In sum, the value of
the penetrating angle does not support a hypothesis of dart tips for Rose Cottage.
Width and thickness of points
The mean widths of Sibudu, Bouheben and Rose Cottage points (Table 8) are
significantly higher than values known for lithic arrowheads from the North
American prehistoric and recent archaeological sample. A sample reported by
Christenson (1997: table 3) includes 5 827 specimens; their mean width varies
between 12.6 and 14.6 mm. This sample is not included in Table 8 because the
minimum and maximum values are not given. The sample of dart tips and
arrowheads given in Table 8 is the one reported by Thomas (1978) and corrected
by Shott (1997). The mean width of the Rose Cottage points is close to the values
provided by Shott (1997) for dart tips; in fact it is slightly smaller. However, the
mean thickness of the Rose Cottage points and the thickness of dart tips (Table 9)
differ at a high level of statistical significance (t = 6.90, p < 0.001).
Samples Mean SD Min Max n
Bouheben 63.8 99.7 38.6 987.1 107
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 62.3 13.2 43.6 106.9 936
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 68.3 12.7 38.6 995.5 126
Sibudu, layers below RSp 61.9 12.3 31.5 985.5 968
Rose Cottage 62.4 11.3 33.5 981.5 950
Solutrean foliate points 54.8 12.5 992
Penetrating angle, that is, tip angle seen in plan view and measured in degrees. Also called front angle.
Values of Solutrean foliate points from Peterkin 1997.
In conclusion, metrical analyses indicate that Bouheben and Sibudu points are spear
points; the diagnosis for Rose Cottage points is less clear-cut. The Rose Cottage TCSA,
penetrating angles and thickness are significantly different from the dart tip values. On
the other hand, the width is clearly in the range of the smaller dart tips. However, the
constraints imposed on the size of the Rose Cottage points by the small size of the
unworked raw material, the fact that largest available blanks were consistently selected
for point manufacture and the fact that the Sibudu points, dating to the same long time
interval (about 25 ka in duration), are clearly points for thrusting or throwing spears do
not favour a hypothesis of widespread use of spearthrower darts in South Africa, prior
to 35 ka.
It is important to note that at a later time, very small triangular points occur in
Rose Cottage in layer Dc, which has an age of 27 200 ± 350 b.p. (Pta-5596; Wadley
2004). These are diminutive in size (length = 15.6 mm ± 4.0) and are made of an
especially attractive raw material (clear opaline, a feature that was noted by Lyn
Wadley). Research by Moleboheng Mohapi (2005) indicates that their mean TCSA
is 6.2 mm2 (SD = 2.6 mm2, min. 2.5 mm2, max. 10.5 mm2; n = 15), the penetrating
angle is 48.8° (SD = 8.3°) and their mean width is 6.9 (SD = 1.7 mm). Mohapi
concludes that these were undoubtedly arrowheads and we concur with her
diagnosis. Rose Cottage is one of the few South African sites that covers a long
span of time from early Upper Pleistocene to Holocene times and it has yielded
many LSA assemblages, from the Robberg to the Wilton; an analysis of the lithic
triangular and backed points throughout its final MSA and LSA sequence is clearly
Samples Mean SD Min Max n
Bouheben 32.1 7.8 17.2 57.4 098
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 27.7 8.6 89.2 45.4 023
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 27.0 6.4 12.2 42.4 073
Sibudu, layers below RSp 28.7 7.2 18.2 52.4 043
Rose Cottage 21.4 4.0 13.2 32.4 047
N. American dart tips 23.1 4.4 14.2 32.4 030
N. American arrow tips 14.4 3.4 89.2 32.4 130
Width of points, in mm, compared to the width of 30 North American archaeological dart tips, reported
by Shott (1997), and 130 North American arrow tips reported by Thomas (1978; ethnographic and
archaeological sample, as corrected by Shott who removed two doubtful cases of tools probably
fashioned for collectors).
Samples Mean SD Min Max n
Bouheben 10.7 2.8 5.9 16.2 98
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 17.3 2.5 2.9 11.2 26
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 18.1 2.5 3.9 15.2 79
Sibudu, layers below RSp 19.6 2.4 5.9 16.2 42
Rose Cottage 17.1 2.2 3.9 12.2 47
N. American dart tips 15.1 0.9 2.9 17.2 30
N. American arrow tips 13.9 1.1 1.8 18.2 1301
Thickness of points in mm. Samples of dart tips and arrow tips from Shott (1997) as indicated in the
previous table.
Bulbar thinning
Evidence of deliberate hafting in the form of distinctive patterns of abrasion and
polishing confined to the proximal parts of the tools has been found on pointed forms
of the MP (Anderson-Gerfaud 1990; Beyries 1988 a, b). Strong evidence of hafting has
also been found on the Sibudu unifacial points by combined microwear and residue
analysis (Lombard 2005a, this volume). Removal of the original striking platform and
extensive flaking of the ventral surface is generally seen as a way of accommodating
the bases of the points to specific hafting procedures. Thinning of the base means that
the haft bindings or adhesives would not project much above the stone thus decreasing
the haft drag. Table 10 shows that a good proportion of points from all three sites has a
thinned base.
Hafting on MP stone tools is no longer a contentious issue (Hardy et al. 2001; Grünberg
2002; Villa, Delagnes & Wadley 2005: 417). To date, the oldest known physical evidence
of hafting is from an Italian site dated by micromammal stratigraphy to the late Middle
Pleistocene. At Campitelli Quarry in Central Italy two flint flakes have been found
covered with birch bark tar in association with elephant bones; one of the flakes was
found under one of the elephant ribs (Mazza et al. in press).
Based on experimental work by Fisher et al. (1984) and other researchers (e.g. Barton
& Bergmann 1982; Bergman & Newcomer 1983; Donahue et al. 2004; Lombard 2005a),
and observations of impact scars on projectile points at Paleo-Indian bison kill sites
(Frison 1974), step fractures, burin-like fractures and spin-off fractures on the apex of
a point are considered diagnostic of use as spear tips. Like other researchers (O’Farrell
2005 and references therein) we have used low magnification (a hand-lens, 10x). We
have considered only impact scars 6 mm long since small scars at the tip (such as
crushing) can result from using the tip in a forceful motion or by trampling. Further, our
points are larger and heavier than backed pieces and Aurignacian retouched bladelets,
for which shorter scars have been retained as diagnostic (O’Farrell 2004, 2005; Pelegrin
& O’Farrell 2005). Scars with bulbs of percussion have also been excluded as they
could represent retouch or resharpening of the tip and are uncommon in experiments
using points as projectile elements (O’Farrell 2004). Four tip scars at Bouheben were
< 6 mm in length and have not been considered in our counts. In the case of Rose
Cottage, since points are smaller and length of impact scars is related to mass, we have
considered scars 4 mm in length. The coding of impact scars on the Sibudu points
is incomplete, so we are not providing it here since the data would be preliminary.
Table 11 shows that Rose Cottage and Bouheben have similar low proportions of impact
scars. Figure 11 shows examples of impact scars from Bouheben.
It could be argued that the low proportions of diagnostic impact fractures, compared
to experimental results, show that the points were, in most cases, not used as weapons.
Sites Yes No %
Bouheben 22 188 25.0
Sibudu 40 130 30.8
Rose Cottage 19138 23.7
Bulbar thinning. Counts exclude pieces with broken or damaged bases (burnt).
This conclusion can be accepted only if it can be demonstrated that the archaeological
assemblage results from an episode of hunting, that is, it can be interpreted exclusively
as the residue of an ambush or kill site where the main activity was the killing of animals.
At our sites there is clear evidence of a variety of activities, which included knapping
and manufacturing of many domestic (non-weapon) tools, in addition to points. Some
Sites Yes No %
Bouheben 6 107 5.3
Rose Cottage 2 145 4.2
Impact scars on the Bouheben and Rose Cottage points. Counts exclude pieces with broken or damaged
(burnt) distal end. At Bouheben three impact scars occur in Layer 2 and three in Layer 11.
Fig. 11. All Bouheben. 1–3: impact scars on three Mousterian points. 1–2: step-terminating fractures 6.5
and 8 mm long respectively, from Layer 2. 3: burin-like fracture 11.9 mm long, the black arrows
indicate the termination of the scar, from Layer 11. 4–12: Mousterian and elongated Mousterian
points; 4–6, 9–11 from Layer 2; 7, 8, 12 from Layer 11. It seems that two main design shapes
were in the minds of their makers: (1) a broad, thin point with a wide front angle to produce a
greater wound area (Nos 9, 10), and (2) a thick point with a slender, acute head and a more obtuse
leading edge angle (angle in profile), more resistant to breakage and with more stopping power
(Nos 5, 6, 8, 11, 12). These design types do not explain all the variability, some of which could be
explained by Dibble’s reduction model.
of the points we studied may never have been used and some, brought back with the
carcass, may have been recycled, thus removing impact scars. There is no reason to
expect a definite percentage of impact scars on points found at a residential or a
manufacturing site.
Stone points of the MP/MSA are often interpreted as tips of thrusting spears. According
to Churchill (1993) ethnographic sources indicate that the range of throwing spears is
in the order of 8 m. This is considered a dangerously close distance for hunting large
mammals (Shea 2006). It is then suggested that Neanderthals used thrusting, not
throwing, spears by placing a prey in a disadvantaged position and then killing it at
close quarters.
The range of throwing spears is underestimated. Roman soldiers used javelins (pila)
that were about 2 m long and weighed 2 kg, or a maximum of 3–4 kg for the heavy
variety. A pilum was made of an iron shank with a small pyramidal or barbed point. The
shank, about 7 mm in diameter right below the point and increasing slightly to its base,
was 60–90 cm long. It was socketed or it widened into a flat tang to be inserted into a
slotted shaft, made of ash wood, with a diameter of 2–3 cm and a length of 1.5 m so the
total length was 2–2.3 m. The thin iron shank would easily pierce a shield or a cuirass
and could bend on impact. Based on modern experiments, the maximum range of a
pilum was in the order of 30 m, although the effective range (killing or wounding as
opposed to piercing a shield and rendering it useless by making impossible the removal
of the bent shank) was 15 m. The legionaries threw their first pila (each soldier had
two) after marching to within 30 m of the enemy; the second volley was at closer range
(Goldsworthy 2002). Some versions of the weapon were weighted by a lead ball to
increase penetrative power.
There is no reason to suppose that Neanderthals and other early humans were less strong
than Roman soldiers; they had as much motivation to hit their target (a food animal) as
Roman soldiers who had been drilled to kill their opponents. The world record for throwing
javelins in the Summer Olympics is 98.48 m (for a male athlete), but Olympic javelins
weigh less than pila (800 g for male athletes; the javelin length is 2.6–2.7 m) and the
throwing rules, which allow for a run-up of about 33 m, are hardly comparable to those of
hunting defensive mammals in search of a caloric return. However, the experimental or
ethnographic data for throwing spears is limited and does not allow one to distinguish
between thrusting or throwing spears when only the stone tip and impact scars are available
to the analyst. Thus we cannot say if the stone points of the MP/MSA were used as tips for
thrusting spears or throwing spears. We see, however, no reason for preferring one
interpretation over the other; they could have been both.
In historical times the thrusting spears of Greek hoplites, advancing in phalanx
formation to kill at close range, had the same diameter (2.5 cm) as the Roman throwing
spear, were slightly longer (up to 2.7 m), but lighter (up to 2 kg); their shafts, made of
dogwood or ash, were not weighted (Hanson 1989). In other words, thrusting spears
are not necessarily heavier than throwing spears. The Schöningen wooden spears from
Germany, dated to about 400–300 ka and associated with remains of at least 19 horses
(Equus mosbachensis), have a diameter (29–50 mm) and a length (1.8–2.5 m; Thieme
1997, 2000) that matches the pilum as well as the thrusting spears of the Greek warriors.
They have been interpreted as javelins because their centre of gravity is situated a third
of the way from the tip, as is the case with modern javelins.
The Lehringen spear (Germany), made of yew wood and dated to the Last Interglacial,
was found among the ribs of an elephant. The spear is 2.39 m long; its diameter is 31
mm at the base and 20 mm near the tip. Its weight is concentrated on the proximal end
thus its use as a thrusting spear is a reasonable inference (Smith 2003; Veil & Plisson
1990). Microwear evidence of long-term use of the implement suggests that it was a
curated tool; this seems reasonable if we consider that the manufacture time of the
Lehringen spear (and of the Schöningen spears) was 5 to 20 times longer than even the
most sophisticated MP stone implements. Shaft diameter and length alone are not
sufficient to distinguish between thrusting and throwing spears, although the location
of maximum diameter or centre of gravity might help in separating the two. Perhaps the
same spear could have been used for both functions, according to circumstances.
In sum, neither wooden spears nor lithic points prove that early European hominids
were limited to hunting by putting the prey in a disadvantaged position and killing at
close quarters with a thrusting spear. Tipping their spears with a stone point would have
improved penetration and stopping power (Boëda et al. 1999), while also providing the
hunter with a stone tool that could be used in butchery. Loss or breakage of the stone
point inside the prey body (Ellis 1997) would help salvaging the shaft. The use of
stone-tipped spears may have been a way of limiting a loss of functionality because
recovery from tool breakage was more easily managed (Ahler & Geib 2000).
Brooks et al. (2006) have argued that the small size of unifacial and bifacial MSA
points from two African regions (Ethiopia and Botswana) implies the existence of a
complex armature technology, that is, based on spearthrower darts or arrows, at a much
earlier time than the appearance of projectile armatures in Eurasia. She describes many
points from the site of =Gi in Botswana and four occurrences in the region of Aduma in
Ethiopia (Yellen et al. 2005), all thought to be older than 70 ka. Since the TCSA is
considered by Shea the most diagnostic measurement for weapon types, we compare
the TCSA values of the Aduma points with the ethnographic and archaeological data
Shea used in his recent paper.
Brooks et al. provide the mean, standard deviation and sample size of several
measurements of length, width, thickness, angle and predicted weight of points but do
not include the TCSA. TCSA values should be calculated from an array of data of
individual specimens but we do not have those. As a proxy measure we can use the
formula: ( x mean width) x mean thickness.
Sites Mean (1) Mean (2)
Bouheben 177.2 171.7
Sibudu, final MSA (layers Ore to Co) 116.2 101.1
Sibudu, RSp-MOD 117.7 109.4
Sibudu, layers below RSp 139.4 137.8
Rose Cottage 178.2 176.2
Mean TCSA in mm2 calculated from the array of data for each site (1), and using the formula ( x mean
width) x mean thickness (2).
The mean TCSA values of our own samples, calculated in the usual manner for
each individual specimen, were compared to values obtained using the formula
based on the means only. Table 12 shows that the error associated with this
calculation is fairly minor and varies from 3–13 % of the correct value. More
importantly the deviation is in the direction of smaller values. This favours the
Brooks et al. hypothesis since small values would support a hypothesis of TCSA
falling within the dart or arrow range. The mean TCSA of the Aduma points is
provided in Table 13. We have excluded data from the =Gi site because the
measurements reported in Table 2 of Brooks et al. are from a very small sample
(n =16), not likely to be representative since the site is said to have yielded hundreds
of points and the calculated TCSA value seems too large (330).
Table 13 shows that only Aduma 4 has a TCSA of less than 100, comparable to the
Rose Cottage post-Howiesons Poort value; the TCSA of darts given by Shea is 58 ± 18.
Spearthrowers have not been found in Africa, but the hypothesis that Aduma 4 points
are dart tips cannot be rejected. Since arrowheads seem to be documented by about
27 000 b.p. at Rose Cottage, it is also possible that the evolution of points was in the
direction of arrowheads, skipping the spearthrower phase that is documented in the
European Upper Palaeolithic. Our gaps in the information about early LSA sites in
southern Africa do not allow us to speculate further on the development of projectile
technology in the area.
Direct evidence of projectile technology (spearthrower and bow and arrow) is available
for the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe. At present the oldest known spearthrower is dated
to the Upper Solutrean (between 19 000 and 17 000 b.p.) from the Combe Saunière
cave in SW France (Cattelain 1989). Spearthrowers, made of antler, bone or ivory,
were used until the beginning of the Upper Magdalenian (about 12 500 b.p.). This
projectile weapon, used almost exclusively in open terrestrial or in marine environments,
is documented archaeologically and ethnographically in Oceania, the Arctic and in the
Americas (Cattelain 1997). The use of spearthrowers in North America is documented
at the Jurgens site of Colorado by atlatl hooks made of bison tooth molar cores. The
Jurgens site belongs to the Cody Complex dated to 8 800–8 400 b.p. There is no
incontrovertible evidence for the use of spearthrowers in earlier times (Frison 1978:
33; Judge 1973: 84; Wheat 1979), though the older Clovis and Folsom points are
considered either tips of spears or dart tips (Ahler & Geib 2000; Christenson 1986) and
the issue is unresolved.
Mean Mean Mean Mean Mean
Sites width thickness TCSA weight angle n
(mm) (mm) (mm2) (g) (degrees)
Aduma 5 30.1 10.21153.5111.8 70.5 299
Aduma 4 23.9 7.3 187.24 16.6 55.8 139
Aduma 8 32.8 10.71175.48 19.7 57.3 133
Aduma 1 27.4 9.0 123.3118.8 61.2 169
Mean TCSA for the MSA points from four Aduma sites; mean width, thickness, weight, penetrating
(= front) angle and sample totals from table 2 in Brooks et al. 2006. The Aduma sites are in the Middle
Awash Valley of Ethiopia; their estimated age is late OIS 5 or early OIS 4. They are listed in stratigraphic
order; the uppermost horizon is Aduma 5.
The oldest direct evidence for the use of bows and arrows comes from the site of
Stellmoor, an open air site in northern Germany, with an Ahrensburgian layer containing
about 100 arrow shaft portions made of pinewood and more than 18 000 remains of
reindeer. The shafts were armed with Ahrensburg points (small tanged and obliquely
truncated tips). The layer is dated to about 10 000 b. p. (Weinstock 2000 and references
therein). The date of introduction of the bow in America is controversial (Shott 1997).
Macrofracture analysis of retouched or utilized bladelets (generally 10–30 mm long)
from the early Aurignacian layers of Brassempouy and Castanet (SW France) suggests
that some of them were used as projectile points, based on the occurrence of step and
burin-like fractures (O’Farrell 2005; Pelegrin & O’Farrell 2005). A similar conclusion
had been reached by Plisson and Schmider (1988) for the Châtelperronian points of
Arcy-sur-Cure, which show some burin-like impact fractures. The manner of hafting of
Aurignacian bladelets remains unclear: it seems that most were hafted laterally, but
some may have been mounted axially (O’Farrell 2005). The small backed points of the
Gravettian (from the open-air site of Rabier, SW France) appear to have been mounted
axially on the shaft with mastic and sinew (Soriano 1998). The very small size and
weight of the Aurignacian and Gravettian bladelets (less than 1 g for the microgravettian
points of Rabier) has been used to suggest the possibility that bows and arrows were
already in use in the early Upper Palaeolithic, although physical evidence for these
occurs only at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic.
Morphometric and impact scar analyses of the Bouheben assemblage show that at
least some of the Mousterian points can be interpreted as spear points. The evidence
from La Cotte de St. Brelade suggests that stone-tipped spears were already in use by
OIS 6 in Western Europe. Similar weapons were in common use in the MSA of South
Africa by 100 ka (Shea 2006) and probably earlier in East Africa (Brooks et al. 2006)
and they continued to be in use until about 37 or 33 ka, based on dates for the youngest
MSA sequences at Sibudu and Rose Cottage. More research is needed on the backed
points of the Howiesons Poort phase and of the Later Stone Age if we want to understand
the evolution of projectile technology on the African continent. Likewise, the data
available for the European MP are far from comprehensive and need to be strengthened
by analyses of other assemblages. Although we agree with Dibble that convergent
scrapers and Mousterian points intergrade, both the TCSA values and impact scar
observations can be used to identify spear points.
We thank Lyn Wadley for inviting us to participate in the monograph on Sibudu and
for providing information on the latest results of her fieldwork and laboratory analyses.
Research on the Sibudu and Rose Cottage lithics was funded by grants from the National
Science Foundation (BCS 0314371) and the Leakey Foundation to PV. We are very
grateful to Moleboheng Mohapi who did the analysis of the Rose Cottage points in
collaboration with PV and agreed to share her observations with us. Jacques Jaubert,
Director of the Institute of Prehistory and Quaternary Geology in Bordeaux, kindly
provided information on the Bérigoule assemblage. We are grateful to Françoise Lagarde
of the Bordeaux Institute for composing the illustrations, to Eric Pubert for help in
using the camera attached to the microscope and to Geneviève Rauber for hunting
references for us. The Bouheben artefact drawings were done by Pierre Laurent (the
late and much missed graphic illustrator of the Bordeaux Institute) and by Michel Lenoir;
those of Sibudu and Rose Cottage were done by Wendy Voorvelt of the University of
Witwatersrand with help from Sylvain Soriano. PV is grateful to S. Veil for providing a
copy of his and H. Plisson’s paper on the Lehringen spear. Grateful thanks also go to
the friends of the Archaeology Lunch in Boulder, especially Jim Dixon, Payson Sheets,
Cathy Cameron and Steve Lekson for trying to improve the English and logic of this
paper. Our research would not have been possible without the previous work of the late
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... The other two sites associated with Neanderthal and probable Neanderthal occupation show a similar pattern. However, for Bouheben in France we used the descriptive statistics published in Villa and Lenoir [84] so that outliers and how they affect the mean/median values are invisible, and the Tabun sample (n = 12) is probably too small to draw any robust conclusions from. weapons. ...
... The other two sites associated with Neanderthal and probable Neanderthal occupation show a similar pattern. However, for Bouheben in France we used the descriptive statistics published in Villa and Lenoir [84] so that outliers and how they affect the mean/median values are invisible, and the Tabun sample (n = 12) is probably too small to draw any robust conclusions from. Data sources: Bouheben [84]; Tabun [40,41]; South African assemblages [36]. ...
... However, for Bouheben in France we used the descriptive statistics published in Villa and Lenoir [84] so that outliers and how they affect the mean/median values are invisible, and the Tabun sample (n = 12) is probably too small to draw any robust conclusions from. Data sources: Bouheben [84]; Tabun [40,41]; South African assemblages [36]. ...
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There are many opinions and arguments about the types of weapons that Neanderthals may have used. We list five assumptions about Neanderthal weapon-assisted hunting and suggest that the tip cross-sectional area (TCSA) approach may be used to assess these, and to provide a hypothetical overview of stone-tipped weaponry used in south eastern France between MIS 7 and MIS 3. We analysed stone points from Abri du Maras, Saint-Marcel, Grotte du Figuier, and Payre, and discuss possible hunting strategies in tandem with faunal evidence. Our results suggest that early Neanderthals may have hunted with bimanual thrusting spears in combination with one-handed stabbing spears, but that later groups possibly introduced javelin hunting to the Neanderthal arsenal. Stone-tipped assegais or one-handed stabbing spears, however, stand out as the Neanderthal weapons of choice throughout the Middle Palaeolithic, and we discuss the adaptive advantages of hunting with these weapons. Comparative results that include assemblages from elsewhere in the Old World suggest similarities in hunting with stone-tipped weapons between Neanderthal and H. sapiens before MIS 5, marked differences during MIS 5-4, but similarities again during MIS 3. We suggest that caution is needed when attributing MIS 3 point assemblages to Neanderthals based on age and/or technology only.
... In projectile studies, the size argument has been formalized and extended to various point morphologies with the introduction of a particular measure, the tip cross-sectional area (TCSA) 54 . This approach has become tremendously popular and continues to be applied 11,12,39,45,49,[55][56][57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] even though its reliability can be questioned in the light of ethnographic data as well as experimental observations (SI Text 1.1). Therefore, while remaining a relevant hypothesis, the presence of long-range weaponry in southern Africa in the Middle Stone Age remains to be proved. ...
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The emergence of hunting technology in the deep past fundamentally shaped the subsistence strategies of early human populations. Hence knowing when different weapons were first introduced is important for understanding our evolutionary trajectory. The timing of the adoption of long-range weaponry remains heavily debated because preserved organic weapon components are extremely rare in the Paleolithic record and stone points are difficult to attribute reliably to weapon delivery methods without supporting organic evidence. Here, we use a refined use-wear approach to demonstrate that spearthrower was used for launching projectiles armed with tanged flint points at Maisières-Canal (Belgium) 31,000 years ago. The novelty of our approach lies in the combination of impact fracture data with terminal ballistic analysis of the mechanical stress suffered by a stone armature on impact. This stress is distinct for each weapon and visible archaeologically as fracture proportions on assemblage scale. Our reference dataset derives from a sequential experimental program that addressed individually each key parameter affecting fracture formation and successfully reproduced the archaeological fracture signal. The close match between the archaeological sample and the experimental spearthrower set extends the timeline of spearthrower use by over 10,000 years and represents the earliest reliable trace-based evidence for the utilization of long-distance weaponry in prehistoric hunting.
... Middle Pleistocene and early Late Pleistocene hominins are often characterised as technologically limited by short-distance hunting technologies, with spears accurate only between 5-10 m away [103][104][105]. This model is challenged on the basis of ethnographic and experimental data of throwing spear use, including using replicas of Schöningen spears [36,38,41,106,107]. The throwing sticks at Schöningen point further to the use of medium distance hunting weapons. ...
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The site of Schöningen (Germany), dated to ca. 300,000 years ago, yielded the earliest large-scale record of humanly-made wooden tools. These include wooden spears and shorter double-pointed sticks, discovered in association with herbivores that were hunted and butchered along a lakeshore. Wooden tools have not been systematically analysed to the same standard as other Palaeolithic technologies, such as lithic or bone tools. Our multianalytical study includes micro-CT scanning, 3-dimensional microscopy, and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, supporting a systematic technological and taphonomic analysis, thus setting a new standard for wooden tool analysis. In illustrating the biography of one of Schöningen's double-pointed sticks, we demonstrate new human behaviours for this time period, including sophisticated woodworking techniques. The hominins selected a spruce branch which they then debarked and shaped into an aerodynamic and ergonomic tool. They likely seasoned the wood to avoid cracking and warping. After a long period of use, it was probably lost while hunting, and was then rapidly buried in mud. Taphonomic alterations include damage from trampling, fungal attack, root damage and compression. Through our detailed analysis we show that Middle Pleistocene humans had a rich awareness of raw material properties, and possessed sophisticated woodworking skills. Alongside new detailed morphometrics of the object, an ethnographic review supports a primary function as a throwing stick for hunting, indicating potential hunting strategies and social contexts including for communal hunts involving children. The Schöningen throwing sticks may have been used to strategically disadvantage larger ungulates, potentially from distances of up to 30 metres. They also demonstrate that the hominins were technologically capable of capturing smaller fast prey and avian fauna, a behaviour evidenced at contemporaneous Middle Pleistocene archaeological sites.
... The tip angles fall below the mean tip angles recorded for early Late Pleistocene point assemblages from Ethiopia, ranging between 53° and 64° (Sahle & Brooks, 2019). They prove to be below Middle Paleolithic points from Bouheben, France, at 63.8° as well as late Middle Stone Age points from South Africa ranging from 68.3° to 61.9° (Villa & Lenoir, 2006). Moreover, the tip angles overlap with the values of projectiles from the French Upper Paleolithic (Peterkin, 1993). ...
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Identifying, analyzing, and explaining trends in the development of material culture is one of the major concerns in prehistoric archaeology. The traditional recording of data in typologies, however, is not optimal for answering the question of diachronic change because typological data capture variability poorly and are often incompatible with multivariate statistics. To overcome these problems, we present PyREnArA (Python-R-Environment for Artifact Analysis), a trait-based tool that allows for a systematic recording of diversity and variability in a way that is applicable to quantitative analysis and multivariate statistics. Using Gravettian assemblages from Lower Austria and Moravia as a case study, we analyze changes in the morphology as well as the design of lithic projectiles and statistically determine the amount of variation that correlates with the progression of time. We identify a slow trend towards slenderer and more pointed projectiles and a shift from laterally to latero-frontally hafted implements. Most of the analyzed traits, however, appear not to experience selective pressure and seem to be unrelated to the passage of time. We discuss these results with regard to different scales of selection, in particular individual choice vs. macroevolutionary group selection over longer periods of time and thus beyond the realm of individual intend, and we raise questions for future research.
... Both Helwan points and Jericho points evidence a high frequency of DIF, comparable and even exceeding the values obtained in archery experiments or observed in kill sites (ca 40 %, e.g., Fischer et al., 1984;Villa and Lenoir, 2006;Lombard et al., 2004;Pargeter, 2008, Yaroshevich et al., 2010). Furthermore, both point types show high frequencies of damage characteristic of high velocity/complex projectiles, corresponding to values observed among experimental arrows and darts propelled with a spear thrower (e. g., Sano and Oba, 2015;Clarkson, 2016;summarized in Yaroshevich et al., 2021). ...
Large tanged points characteristic of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) in the Levant signify a prominent departure from the long-lasting use of small-size projectile implements. The reason for the emergence of these tools remains enigmatic, especially on the background of experimental evidence from elsewhere indicating greater efficiency of small-size counterparts in hunting as well as in warfare. Here we investigate this phenomenon based on the early PPNB (EPPNB) occupation of Motza, where large tanged Jericho points occur together with relatively small and side-notched Helwan points. Examination of projectile damage patterns and metric characteristics showing that both types constituted tips of complex/high velocity projectiles led to delineation of function-related requirements associated with large tanged points in particular. These insights together with recent studies linking pre-domestic management of ungulates with Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA)–PPNB transition allowed formulation of a hypothesis that the emergence of large points reflected a changing perception of the kill of the animals in humans' care, namely introduction of proto sacrifice conducted in the form of ritual/ceremonial hunt. Our hypothesis, tested against the spatial distribution of Helwan and Jericho points in the EPPNB occupation of Motza with encouraging results, requires further examination involving analyses of functional and contextual aspects of large tanged points deriving from different phases of the period.
... Comparison to experimental hunting damage on animal bones suggests that all three recognized marks at Pinnacle Point are characteristic of handheld spears (O'Driscoll and Thompson 2018). The dimensions of MSA point types as well as the edge damage on such points have been interpreted to demonstrate the use of handheld spears from the Middle Pleistocene onward (Villa and Lenoir 2006;Wilkins et al. 2012;Mohapi 2012). ...
Analysis of Late Pleistocene fauna exploitation (~130,000–12,000 years ago) in southern Africa is of global academic relevance. Faunal analyses from southern African sites have led to the development of influential hypotheses on the evolution of modern human hunting methods and subsistence economies.In the 1970s and 1980s, analysis of faunal remains from the Middle Stone Age site Klasies River informed the hypothesis that Middle Stone Age humans were less effective hunters than ethnographically documented hunter-gatherers. This was based on the underrepresentation of dangerous prey species in the bone assemblages. The development of detailed taphonomic research in the 1990s and 2000s demonstrated that the accumulation of faunal assemblages was the result of complex processes involving both human and nonhuman agents. These studies helped establish that Middle Stone Age hunters were as capable as those in ethnographically documented societies. Since then, important progress has been made in the identification of the weapons systems that were used to hunt animals. Analyses of lithic implements indicate bow-and-arrow use in southern Africa going back to at least 65,000 years ago.Animal exploitation strategies do change over time. Hunting strategies probably focused on large antelope during the Middle Pleistocene, and the importance of smaller animals increased This change was likely caused by a shift in prey populations that stemmed from a combination of environmental change and perhaps human population pressure.Late Pleistocene archaeological sites show increasing evidence for intensification; that is, an increase in the amount of food extracted from the environment by more thorough processing of prey, exploitation of new prey types, and development of new exploitation strategies. This pattern is usually linked to animal overexploitation and may be a result of human population expansion or environmental change if decreasing productivity limits the supply of animal prey. Notable examples of this are shellfish middens at coastal sites, the abundance of tortoises, and the presence of large numbers of small mammals that were likely snared instead of pursued.
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Technological processes, reconstructed from the archaeological record, are used to study the evolution of behaviour and cognition of Neanderthals and early modern humans. In comparisons, technologies that are more complex infer more complex behaviour and cognition. The manufacture of birch bark tar adhesives is regarded as particularly telling and often features in debates about Neanderthal cognition. One method of tar production, the ‘condensation technique’, demonstrates a pathway for Neanderthals to have discovered birch bark tar. However, to improve on the relatively low yield, and to turn tar into a perennial innovation, this method likely needed to be scaled up. Yet, it is currently unknown how scaling Palaeolithic technological processes influences their complexity. We used Petri net models and the Extended Cyclomatic Metric to measure system complexity of birch tar production with a single and three concurrent condensation assemblies. Our results show that changing the number of concurrent tar production assemblies substantially increases the measured complexity. This has potential implications on the behavioural and cognitive capacities required by Neanderthals, such as an increase in cooperation or inhibition control.
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Rose Cottage is a high altitude cave in the interior of southern Africa. Its six-meter-deep sediments contain a Middle Stone Age record that began close to 100 ka ago, and repeated pulses of occupation occurred until about 30 ka ago, after which there was a long Later Stone Age sequence. Fine-grained local minerals were used for lithic assemblages throughout the sequence that includes a Howiesons Poort tradition. Charcoal identifications provide a long vegetation record that spans both cold and warm conditions. High altitude taxa not present in the area nowadays occurred during the last glacial.
Flaked stone (lithic) artifacts are a ubiquitous cultural material at Pleistocene sites and first appear in the archaeological record 3.3 million years ago (Ma) in East Africa. The African stone artifact record thus covers the longest time span of human prehistory compared to other regions. Lithic artifacts preserve well, and they are often the only cultural materials remaining at a site. Archaeologists have therefore dedicated considerable effort to describing stone artifacts and to developing theory to interpret them in light of hominin behavioral and biological evolution. In this contribution, we briefly describe the major lithic technologies that appeared in Africa during the Pleistocene. Additionally, this chapter reviews the common analytical approaches that researchers employ when studying lithic assemblages from diverse contexts. We then discuss how archaeologists have used lithic artifacts to interpret other aspects of hominin evolution and the issues that confound these interpretations.
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Consensus in archaeology has posited that mechanically propelled weapons, such as bow-and-arrow or spear-thrower-and-dart combinations, appeared abruptly in the Eurasian record with the arrival of anatomically and behaviorally modern humans and the Upper Paleolithic (UP) after 45,000 to 42,000 years (ka) ago, while evidence for weapon use during the preceding Middle Paleolithic (MP) in Eurasia remains sparse. The ballistic features of MP points suggest that they were used on hand-cast spears, whereas UP lithic weapons are focused on microlithic technologies commonly interpreted as mechanically propelled projectiles, a crucial innovation distinguishing UP societies from preceding ones. Here, we present the earliest evidence for mechanically propelled projectile technology in Eurasia from Layer E of Grotte Mandrin 54 ka ago in Mediterranean France, demonstrated via use-wear and impact damage analyses. These technologies, associated with the oldest modern human remains currently known from Europe, represent the technical background of these populations during their first incursion into the continent.
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We discuss thermoluminescence (TL) ages for burnt lithic artefacts from Middle Stone Age layers at Rose Cottage Cave. A weighted mean age of 70.5 ± 5 kyr was obtained for the earliest pre-Howieson's Poort layer; the Howieson's Poort layer had ages between 56.3 ± 4.5 and 60.4 ± 4.6 kyr, whereas the oldest post-Howieson's Poort age was 50.5 ± 4.6 kyr. The Howieson's Poort TL dates, which are in agreement with optically stimulated luminescence results obtained for the same sequence and with other radiometric results obtained for other sites, indicate that this technocomplex was still in use at 62-54 kyr ago.
The study of the origins of modern humans continues to be a dynamic, quickly changing field, as shown by the recent extraction and analysis of DNA from the Neander Valley fossils.¹ The dynamic nature of the field partly arises from the clearly defined opposing models for the origins of modern humans,² and the spirited defense of the opposing models by the main protagonists in the debate. Although the “Out-of-Africa” and “Multiregional Continuity Models” are typically argued from the perspective of biological evolution, with the debates centering on anatomical and molecular evidence, the behavioral side of the question is of equal significance. Even though the anatomical record will always be a productive avenue for behavioral reconstruction,3,4 archeology remains the major contributor to our understanding of the behavioral side of this debate.