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Stone tips on ancient hunting.

Stone tips on ancient hunting

In the last decade, anthropologists have engaged in a heated debate over the extent of hunting by human ancestors. Some take the more traditional stance that hunting, at least of small animals, extends back nearly 2 million years. Others contend hunting replaced a lifestyle of scavenging and foraging much later, perhaps 40,000 years ago (SN: 6/11/88, p.373).

The traditional view gains ammunition from a new report suggesting that Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans living from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago hunted with stone-tipped spears. The practice may have spread throughout Africa and much of Europe and Asia, asserts John J. Shea, an anthropology graduate student at Harvard University, in the just-released winter 1988 JOURNAL OF FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY.

Shea first analyzed microscopic wear patterns on more than 5,700 stone implements recovered at the Kebara cave in Israel. Kebara has yielded the remains of Neanderthals and is dated at 50,000 to 60,000 years old.

A total of 448 artifacts bear characteristic markings produced by various types of activities, including woodworking, butchery, hide scraping and the working of bone or antler, Shea reports. He identified 50 triangular blades and flakes with small fractures at their tips, suggesting they had been thrown at or thrust into animals. Near the bases of the same artifacts are worn areas where the sharpened stones apparently were hafted to spears, Shea says.

Microscopic study of similar pointed stones found at the nearby Qafzeh cave, which contains the burials of anatomically modern humans dating to more than 90,000 years ago (SN: 2/27/88, p.138), reveals similar traces of hunting and hafting, Shea maintains. If further research confirms this interpretation, then Neanderthals and anatomically modern humans in the Near East used similar spear points for up to 50,000 years.

Wear marks on pointed stones cannot, however, yield estimates of the frequency or the success of hunting efforts, Shea says. Researchers must address these questions through continued study of animal remains at archaeological sites.
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Title Annotation:Archaeology
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 1, 1989
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