Africa spears point to early man theory

21st Nov 2013

Today, wildlife lovers on specialist tours to Africa delight in tailor-made holidays watching animals from lions to rhinos; elephants to buffalo.

Tourists can see the best of the buffalo in habitats such as South Africa's Kruger National Park, Tanzania's Moyowosi swamp area, Namibia's Zambezi Region and many parts of Kenya.

But early man saw them as something to be hunted and eaten, not enjoyed alive.

They threw spears from a distance at prey, instead of thrusting them into victims, allowing them to hunt buffalo and other game more safely.

Now Africa has unveiled up the oldest known stone-tipped spears - 280,000 years old - in what could be a landmark discovery.

They pre-date the earliest known human fossils by 85,000 years.

This could make Homo sapiens far older than previously thought, according to some experts.

Another theory being forwarded by scientists is that an earlier species to ours was capable of creating sophisticated hunting tools.

The spears were recently found at an Ethiopian Stone Age site known as Gademotta in the Main Ethiopian Rift Valley. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley's Human Evolution Research Centre recently determined their age.

They believe the weapons were made from obsidian, a volcanic glass renowned for its high-blast resistance and strength.

Writing in the journal PLoS ONE, the authors observed: "(This) is significant because it provides direct evidence for a highly advantageous, complex technology that pre-dates the emergence of Homo sapiens."

Scientists think the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens in Africa, and Neanderthals in Europe and Asia, is the Homo heidelbergensis, or Heidelberg Man.

Earlier evidence reveals that Heidelberg Man was a skilled tool-maker and adroitly butchered big animals.

But the spears could give a better understanding of the extent of this species' skills.

The research also suggests that, because there were more people in Gademotta during this era, there would have been a better chance for the dispersal of innovative ideas.

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