bow & arrow

48,000 years old bow and arrow weapons found outside Africa

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest evidence for the use of bow and arrow technology, and perhaps the making of clothes, dating back to 48 ~ 45,000 years ago, outside Africa, in Sri Lankan caves. The research was published in the journal Science Advances.

Bow and Arrow technology in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a country that is home to the earliest fossils of our species, Homo sapiens, in South Asia. Sri Lanka is also home to earliest form of bow and arrow technology dating back to 48,000 ~ 45,000 years ago, outside African continent. The present archaeological discovery disputes the idea that resource-poor environments acted as an obstruction for migrating Pleistocene humans. The argument about how past humans obtained rainforest resources especially fast paced food resources like squirrels and monkeys – remains unresolved

“This traditional focus has sidelined the origins of material culture, such as cultural innovations, and novel projectile hunting methods in regions like Australasia, Asia, and the Americas,” said study co-author Patrick Roberts, from the department of Archaeology at Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany.

The discovery is fascinating because extreme regions like tropical rainforests remain unnoticed for evidence of early human innovation in favor of temperate environments of Europe and Africa. The research work focused on answering questions such as; (1) How humans could have survived in these environments and conditions? (2) How did they compete with the locals for the acquisitions of resources? As some fast paced animals like monkeys and squires would have been fierce competitors when it came to food sources for humans.

Bow and arrow technology discovered in grassland and coastal regions of Africa have been used to study the savannah and marine environments of that time in addition to understand hunting and its cultural aspects. Bow and arrow tools found in Sri Lanka depicts signs of use on the bone arrowheads and are suspected to be used for hunting animals that were fast paced and difficult to capture. Moreover, the researchers believe that these tools might also have been used to make nets and clothes.

The artifacts were found in a nearly perfect condition withing the cave of Fa-Hien Lena, located deep within Sri Lanka’s forests. “Fa-Hien Lena has emerged as one of most signifacnt archaeological sites in South Asia since the 1980s, as it preserves several important historical remains of our species, including; hunting tools,” said co-author of the study Oshan Wedage.

Michelle Langley, lead author of the study from Griffith University, is an expert in analyzing microscopic traces of tool use as well as symbolic material as it pertains to Pleistocene humans. “The tools consisted of fractures indicating damage due to high-powered impact – something usually seen in the use of bow and arrow hunting of animals,” Langley said. Moreover, after analyzing other bone tools with microscopy, the team found implements suggesting the use for freshwater fishing in nearby streams, and fiber work for clothing or nets.

bow & arrow bone tools
Image Credit: Max Planck Institute (Press release), © Langley et al., 2020
Bone tools and the animals from which they were produced from Fa-Hien Lena Cave, Sri Lanka

“Evidence of clothing in the tropical region of Sri Lanka suggests that earlier humans in the region could have made clothes and wore them to fend off mosquitos. While bow & arrow weapons could have been used to hunt tree dwelling primates in addition to small grassland mammals,” said zooarchaeologist Noel Amano.

“We also found clear evidence for the production of colored beads from mineral ochre and the refined making of shell beads traded from the coast, at a similar age to other ‘social signaling’ materials found in Eurasia and Southeast Asia, roughly 45,000 years ago,” Langley said.

bow & arrow
Image Credit: Max Planck Institute (Press release), © Langley et al., 2020
Close-up images of manufactured beads and decorative ochre from Fa-Hien Lena cave, Sri Lanka

This research study strengthened the argument that technological innovations and cultural developments in Pleistocene humans were not restricted to a specific environment, conditions or region.

The study was conducted by an international team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Griffith University in Australia and Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka.

Read More: A strange small-scale rock art discovery surprises Archaeologists

Image Credit: Fa-Hien Lena Cave, Sri Lanka By Rapa123 (Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0), Wikimedia Commons


Discovery of Oldest Bow and Arrow Technology in Eurasia
Press Release | June 12, 2020 | Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany


Bows and arrows and complex symbolic displays 48,000 years ago in the South Asian tropics
Science Advances


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