48,000-year-old arrows discovered in Sri Lanka

48,000-year-old arrows discovered in Sri Lanka
Image: Langley et al., 2020

Researchers on the island had already found the oldest South Asian fossil remains of Homo sapiens and found several objects that indicated that our ancestors were able to survive in the tropical rainforests from 48,000 years ago. And with that, the idea that our ancestors preferred to avoid the rainforests was radically rejected. However, it remained unclear all along how they managed to get food in those rainforests and, for example, catch fast prey such as monkeys and squirrels. A new study sheds more light on this and suggests that the people who settled in Sri Lanka were insured with a bow and arrow of food.

The researchers draw that conclusion after looking again at pointed bone-made objects previously found in a cave in southwestern Sri Lanka. Using various modern techniques, the researchers can now demonstrate that these objects were actually used as arrows. And at the age of about 48,000, they enter the books as the oldest arrows found to date outside Africa.

Among other things, the researchers deduce the tip of bones as arrows from small cracks that can be seen in the bones. They point out that the objects have actually been used to hunt prey in the rainforest. The cracks are said to have been caused by the pointed objects being folded on such an animal with great force and speed.

Previously, older objects have been found in Africa that indicate that people here were hunting animals with a bow and arrow. These objects were actually always discovered along the coast or on open grasslands. As a result, it was long thought that the development of these technologies took place mainly in such landscapes. But in recent years, the discovery has shown that modern humans could also save themselves in a wide range of other landscapes – from deserts to icy cold, high-latitude areas. And the research in Sri Lanka once again endorses that people were also resourceful in these areas.

The researchers not only studied the pointed objects found in the cave. Using the same techniques, they also looked at some of the other objects that were used in the cave a long time ago. And so they discovered that some tools – based on the user tracks – were probably used to make nets and possibly even clothing. “We also found clear evidence for the production of colored beads,” said researcher Michelle Langley. Processed shells have also been recovered from the coast further down and possibly traded some 45,000 years ago. Together, according to the researchers, the findings indicate that here in the tropics of South Asia at that time there was already a complex, human social network.

But what the discoveries show above all is that it is no longer possible to trace specific technological, symbolic, and cultural developments in the Pleistocene to a single area or landscape.


” Discovery of oldest bow and arrow technology in Eurasia ” – Max Planck Institute (via Eurekalert)