Oldest Javelins Predate Modern Humans, Raise Questions on Evolution

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The oldest known stone-tipped projectiles have been discovered in Ethiopia. The javelins are roughly 280,000 years old and predate the earliest known fossils of our species, Homo sapiens, by about 80,000 years.

These javelins are some 200,000 years older than previous examples of similar weapons, suggesting that modern humans and their extinct relatives had the know-how to create these sorts of complex thrown projectiles much earlier than often thought.

Scientists investigated stone tools unearthed at the Gademotta Formation on the flanks of an ancient, large collapsed volcanic crater in central Ethiopia's Rift Valley.

"Today, the area represents a ridge overlooking one of the four lakes in the vicinity, Lake Ziway," said researcher Yonatan Sahle, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley. (See "Stone Spear Tips Surprisingly Old—'Like Finding iPods in Ancient Rome.' ")

During much of the Middle Pleistocene, about 125,000 to 780,000 years ago, "the area was overlooking an even bigger paleolake—a megalake composed of today's four separate lakes." Antelope and hippo remains have been recovered from the grassy, forested site.

Written By: Charles Q. Choi
continue to source article at news.nationalgeographic.com

20 COMMENTS

  1. This is why I adore the scientific method. We think we have a handle on things and then new discoveries come to light that appear to blow our perceptions of the past out of the water. I’ve often wondered if other, earlier hominids made tools and thought it peculiar if they didn’t.

    No doubt the ID brigade will use this as an argument for the “fallibility” of science and completely miss the point of constant investigation and review as they always do thereby, without realizing it, making themselves look like complete and utter arses.

    • In reply to #1 by squeegee:

      This is why I adore the scientific method. We think we have a handle on things and then new discoveries come to light that appear to blow our perceptions of the past out of the water. I’ve often wondered if other, earlier hominids made tools and thought it peculiar if they didn’t.

      Stone tool use goes a lot further back than this to apparently australopithecines 2.6 million years ago. Spears are more recent with wooden spears goes back to 400,000 years ago but possibly a lot further back as wood just doesn’t preserve well. Stone tipped spears designed to be held and stabbed with where maybe 300,000 years old. The interest in the current results seem to be they are weapons for throwing.

      Michael

    • In reply to #2 by CapnTightpants:

      My question is, how do they date when the artifacts were made?

      You can download the actual article from Plos One. It looks like they date the sediment the artefacts are found in using Argon isotopes.

      The journal article title is more sensible “Earliest Stone-Tipped Projectiles from the Ethiopian Rift Date to >279,000 Years Ago”.

      Michael

  2. I just find the title utterly and thoroughly idiotic. It doesn’t raise question an evolution, it raises some questions about one or more aspects of the evolution of species home.

    Who ffs comes up with those stupid headlines? Is that intentional or just a momentary lapse of reason? Does one have to study to be that stupid?

  3. Who ffs comes up with those stupid headlines?

    One thing I learned here a few years back, and for which I am deeply grateful, is that “science journalism” is a real problem when it comes to communicating science to the public. And that even if the reporting is good, there’s often an editor involved who uses a misleading title that gets people’s attention. Their job is to get people’s attention. It doesn’t matter how.

    The unfortunate part of that is that so many people only read headlines. They don’t bother to read the story behind it.

    The MOST unfortunate part is that even when people who aren’t scientifically trained but DO care try to sort through the “science”, the journalism is often crappy. It comes from people who don’t care much about science OR journalism.

    A well-reported article is a good thing even with a bad headline.

    But bad headlines do a lot of damage.

    That’s showbiz. It ain’t right but that’s how it works.

    • I worked a few years as a journalist before changing profession. The editors were a constant nightmare to journalists. Most of them weren’t even journalists and they would twist the headlines and the preamble in ways that made the whole story absurd. Several times, they even got things factually wrong. From what I’ve learned they rarely bother to read through the whole story and just think about what sounds attractive and what is appealing from a design perspective. Editors are the worst scum of the whole media industry, if you ask me. The worst part was that the readers thought I was responsible. I would get angry calls and emails from readers or from people I had interviewed. I quickly learned that making excuses only made things worse, so I just had to apologize and take a beating for something I had not even done. Pretty soon, you start feeling a deep hatred for these scumbags and that’s when I realized I wanted out of that dirty sick twisted profession!

      In reply to #4 by susanlatimer:

      Who ffs comes up with those stupid headlines?

      One thing I learned here a few years back, and for which I am deeply grateful, is that “science journalism” is a real problem when it comes to communicating science to the public. And that even if the reporting is good, there’s often an editor involved…

  4. In reply to #3 by kraut:

    I just find the title utterly and thoroughly idiotic. It doesn’t raise question an evolution, it raises some questions about one or more aspects of the evolution of species home.

    Who ffs comes up with those stupid headlines? Is that intentional or just a momentary lapse of reason? Does one have to…

    Totally agree, I read the article several times to see where the headline fitted in, it didn’t.

    Creationists will just read the headline and then use that to cast doubts on ageing of artefacts and bones, the scientific process etc.

  5. The headline is no more than I would expect from editors/sub-editors, having worked for newspapers. While I understand this site using the original headline I think in cases such as this they might reconsider as it is so obviously false and nothing to do with the story.

    Newspaper subbing/redaction is a serious problem for science as it is often done by people with not enough knowledge or who have agendas of their own. It was only down to awful editing that the Higss boson became known as the god particle, the original writer had written the goddamn particle but his editor bottled and changed it.

  6. It’s from an American journal, and even though it is ostensibly a scientific publication, it’s aimed at average Americans who are lamentably not only science ignorant but often hostile to it. The headline feeds the adored myths of the fallibility of science and the “shakey theory” of evolution, and perhaps was intended to do just that. It promises another “Ahah, gotcha!’” moment for the ignorant. Nothing sells books and magazines better than a good dispute, even if it’s manufactured.

    • In reply to #7 by justinesaracen:

      It’s from an American journal, and even though it is ostensibly a scientific publication, it’s aimed at average Americans who are lamentably not only science ignorant but often hostile to it. The headline feeds the adored myths of the fallibility of science and the “shakey theory” of evolution, and…

      Yes science isn’t worth reporting unless it’s the revolutionary overturning of some established theory. Ideally the person doing the over turning should be a shiny new PhD student or a long-suffering older scientist who has been shunned by their peers for all their working life. Kuhn has a lot to answer for with his paradigm shifts.

      Michael

  7. @link – The researchers discovered that the fracture wings seen in a dozen of these obsidian points suggest that the fracture cracking sped faster than 1,820 miles an hour (2,930 kilometers an hour). In experiments with thrusting spears, that’s the maximum velocity seen in fracturing. And some of these artifacts apparently developed fractures after impact at speeds of up to 3,345 miles an hour (5,385 kilometers an hour), close to the maximum velocity seen with fracturing in thrown spears.

    http://www.americanhunter.org/blog.php?id=21461&cat=56

    I asked experts at archery manufacturing giant PSE what the average compound bow typically sold would be. Blake Shelby said a typical modern compound bow has a 65-pound draw weight, drawing a 29-inch, 400-grain arrow that averages 285 fps. from a new, top-end bow.

    (285fps = 194.318mph)

    There does not seem to be an explanation of how the impact speeds of a thrust or thrown spear, (perhaps 60mph) translate into these shock-wave speeds in the stone.

    http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/records-10000/fastest-bowl-of-a-cricket-ball/
    The highest electronically measured speed for a ball bowled by any bowler is 161.3 km/h (100.23 mph) by Shoaib Akhtar (Pakistan) against England on 22 February 2003 in a World Cup match at Newlands, Cape Town, South Africa.

    • In reply to #9 by Alan4discussion:

      @link – The researchers discovered that the fracture wings seen in a dozen of these obsidian points suggest that the fracture cracking sped faster than 1,820 miles an hour (2,930 kilometers an hour). In experiments with thrusting spears, that’s the maximum velocity seen in fracturing. And some of t…

      I suspect he is talking to shock wave propagation following impact with another stone during manufacture. The extreme hardness of both objects can easily result in the release of large compressive forces, resulting in fracturing shock waves, sufficient to initiate fractures of the types described, despite a modest initial impact velocity.

      The point of this is, I suspect, to demonstrate the improbability of these stones occurring through non deliberate circumstances.

      The math of course is there to impress his math Proff.

      • In reply to #18 by Sheepdog:

        In reply to #9 by Alan4discussion:

        I suspect he is talking to shock wave propagation following impact with another stone during manufacture. The extreme hardness of both objects can easily result in the release of large compressive forces, resulting in fracturing shock waves, sufficient to initiate fractures of the types described, despite a modest initial impact velocity.

        The shocks must be from impacts during manufacture, or from off-target throws hitting rocks.

        You would not expect that sort of shock from hitting flesh or embedding the tip in turf.

  8. It doesn’t raise questions about evolution at all.

    It simply shows that there’s more to be discovered about it.

    That’s how science works.

    And science does work!

    That’s why this discovery has been made.

    Some rethinking is called for, that’s all.

  9. “like finding an iPod in a Roman Empire site”

    I wish scientists would be a bit more careful – all the creationists will jump on this quote, as others have noted. It’s nothing like finding an iPod in a Roman Empire site because we know, and always will know, when iPods were first created.

    Finding spear tips dating from earlier than expected indicates that hominids were intelligent earlier than expected. Finding an iPod in a Roman dig indicates that someone has just dropped an iPod.

    • In reply to #14 by wanstronian:

      “like finding an iPod in a Roman Empire site”

      I wish scientists would be a bit more careful – all the creationists will jump on this quote, as others have noted. It’s nothing like finding an iPod in a Roman Empire site because we know, and always will know, when iPods were first created.

      Some people were trying then. They just did not have the electronics!

      The Antikythera mechanism is an ancient analog computer[1][2][3][4] designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was recovered in 1900–1901 from the Antikythera wreck,[5] but its significance and complexity were not understood until a century later. Jacques Cousteau visited the wreck in 1978[6] but, although he found new dating evidence, he did not find any additional remains of the Antikythera mechanism. The construction has been dated to the early 1st century BC. Technological artifacts approaching its complexity and workmanship did not appear again until the 14th century AD, when mechanical astronomical clocks began to be built in Western Europe.[7]

      Professor Michael Edmunds of Cardiff University, who led a 2006 study of the mechanism, said:[8][9]

      This device is just extraordinary, the only thing of its kind. The design is beautiful, the astronomy is exactly right. The way the mechanics are designed just makes your jaw drop. Whoever has done this has done it extremely carefully … in terms of historic and scarcity value, I have to regard this mechanism as being more valuable than the Mona Lisa.

      —30 November 2006

      The Antikythera mechanism is kept at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
      It is now displayed at the temporary exhibition about the Antikythera Shipwreck,[10] accompanied by reconstructions made by Ioannis Theofanidis, Derek de Solla Price, Michael Wright, the Thessaloniki University and Dionysios Kriaris. Other reconstructions are on display at the American Computer Museum in Bozeman, Montana, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York, in Kassel, Germany, and at the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

      The mechanism was housed in a wooden box approximately 340 × 180 × 90 mm in size and comprised 30 bronze gears (although more could have been lost). The largest gear, clearly visible in fragment A, was approximately 140 mm in diameter and had 223 teeth. The mechanism’s remains were found as 82 separate fragments of which only seven contain any gears or significant inscriptions.

      It seems many technologies developed much earlier than previously thought!

  10. To me all it says is that we should expect to find a hominid fossil dated 280,000 years (the same as the stone/jabelin) // It clearly says known fossils of homo sapiens // so the presence of this artifact should be evidence that there is a 280,000 hominid fossil around (unless no fossil that old has endured)

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