Start date for human civilization moved back 20,000 years or so
An analysis of artifacts found in a South African cave reveals that humans were making tools, beads, and even poison some 20,000 years earlier than previously thought.
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The researchers also dated a lump of beeswax mixed with toxic resin that was likely used to haft, or attach, stone points to the shafts of arrows or spears. The beeswax dates to about 35,000 years ago, making it the oldest known example of beeswax being used as a tool.Skip to next paragraph
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Finally, researchers dated a thin wooden stick scarred with perpendicular scratches. A chemical analysis revealed traces of ricinoleic acid, a natural poison found in castor beans. It's likely that the stick was an applicator used to put poison on an arrow or spearheads, the archaeologists reported. At about 20,000 years old, the applicator marks the first use of poison ever discovered.
"The very thin bone points from the Later Stone Age at Border Cave are good evidence for bow and arrow use," Villa said. "The work by d'Errico and colleagues [published alongside Villa's group's report in the same journal] shows that the points are very similar in width and thickness to the bone points produced by San culture that occupied the region in prehistoric times, whose people were known to use bows and arrows with poison-tipped bone points as a way to bring down medium and large-sized herbivores."
The ancient dates help fill in a continuity gap of human civilization, said study researcher Lucinda Backwell, a researcher in palaeoanthropology at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
"The dating and analysis of archaeological material discovered at Border Cave in South Africa, has allowed us to demonstrate that many elements of material culture that characterize the lifestyle of San hunter-gatherers in southern Africa, were part of the culture and technology of the inhabitants of this site 44,000 years ago," Backwell said.
It seems plausible that these technologies arose 50,000 to 60,000 years ago in Africa and later spread to Europe, Villa said.
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