The Impact of Projectile Weaponry on Late Pleistocene Hominin Evolution

  • John J. Shea
Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)

Projectile weaponry is a key component of all recent human subsistence strategies, but its origins and antiquity remain poorly understood. Cross-sectional area variation among North American arrowheads and spearthrower dart tips is used as a criterion for evaluating hypotheses about possible stone projectile points from Eurasian Middle Paleolithic and African Middle Stone Age contexts. Analysis of pointed artifacts from Africa, the Levant, and Europe suggest projectile technology emerged first in Africa, around 50–100 Ka. Projectile technology probably reflects part of a broader pattern of ecological diversification and subsistence intensification among early Homo sapiens populations.


Hunting Middle Stone Age Middle Paleolithic stone tools tip cross-section area Africa Levant Europe 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ambrose, S.H., 1998. Late Pleistocene Human Population Bottlenecks, Volcanic Winter, and the Differentiation of Modern Humans. Journal of Human Evolution 34, 623–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambrose, S.H., 2001. Paleolithic Technology and Human Evolution. Science 291, 1748–1753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson-Gerfaud, P.C., 1990. Aspects of Behaviour in the Middle Palaeolithic: Functional Analysis of Stone Tools from Southwest France. In: Mellars, P.A. (Ed.), The Emergence of Modern Humans. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 389–418.Google Scholar
  4. Barham, L., 2002. Backed Tools in Middle Pleistocene Central Africa and Their Evolutionary Significance. Journal of Human Evolution 43, 585–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bar-Yosef, O., Vandermeersch, B., Arensburg, B., Belfer-Cohen, A., Goldberg, P., Laville, H., Meignen, L., Rak, Y., Speth, J.D., Tchernov, E., Tillier, A.-M., Weiner, S., 1992. The Excavations in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel. Current Anthropology 33, 497–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Binford, L.R., 1979. Organization and Formation Processes: Looking at Curated Technologies. Journal of Anthropological Research 35, 255–273.Google Scholar
  7. Binford, L.R., 2001. Constructing Frames of Reference: An Analytical Method for Archaeological Theory Building Using Hunter-Gatherer and Environmental Data Sets. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  8. Boëda, E., Geneste, J.-M., Griggo, C., Mercier, N., Muhesen, S., Reyss, J.L., Taha, A.,Valladas, H., 1999. A Levallois Point Embedded in the Vertebra of a Wild Ass (Equus africanus): Hafting, Projectiles and Mousterian Hunting Weapons. Antiquity 73, 394–402.Google Scholar
  9. Bordes, F., 1961. Typologie du Paléolithique Ancien et Moyen. Delmas, Bordeaux.Google Scholar
  10. Brooks, A.S., Yellen, J.E., Nevell, L., Hartman, G., 2005. Projectile technologies of the African MSA: Implications for Modern Human Origins. In: Hovers, E., Kuhn, S.L. (Eds.), Transitions Before the Transition. Plenum/Kluwer, New York, pp. 233–256.Google Scholar
  11. Churchill, S.E., 2002. Of Assegais and Bayonets: Reconstructing Prehistoric Spear Use. Evolutionary Anthropology 11, 185–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clark, J.D., 1988. The Middle Stone Age of East Africa and the Beginnings of Regional Identity. Journal of World Prehistory 2, 235–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Clark, J.D., 1989. The Origin and Spread of Modern Humans: A Broad Perspective on the African Evidence. In: Mellars, P.A., Stringer, C. (Eds.), The Human Revolution: Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origins of Modern Humans. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 565–588.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, J.D., Williamson, K.W., Michels, M.J., Marean, C.A., 1984. A Middle Stone Age Occurrence at Porc Epic Cave, Dire Dawa, Somalia. African Archaeological Review 2, 37–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Crew, H., 1976. The Mousterian Site of Rosh Ein Mor. In: Marks, A.E. (Ed.), Prehistory and Paleoenvironments in the Central Negev, Israel, Vol. 1. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, pp. 75–112.Google Scholar
  16. Deacon, H.J., Deacon, J., 1999. Human Beginnings in South Africa: Uncovering the Secrets of the Stone Age. Altamira Press, Walnut Creek.Google Scholar
  17. Debénath, A., Dibble, H.L., 1994. Handbook of Paleolithic Typology, Vol. 1: Lower and Middle Paleolithic of Europe. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  18. Ellis, C.J., 1997. Factors influencing the use of stone projectile tips: An ethnographic perspective. In: Knecht, H. (Ed.), Projectile Technology. Plenum, New York, pp. 37–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Enard, W., Przeworski, M., Fisher, S.E., Lai, C.S.L., Wiebe, V., Kitano, T., Monaco, A.P., Pääbo, S., 2002. Molecular evolution of FOXP2, a gene involved in speech and language. Nature 418, 869–872.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Finlayson, C., Carríon, J.S., 2007. Rapid Ecological Turnover and Its Impact on Neanderthal and Other Human Populations. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 22, 213–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Flenniken, J.J., Raymond, A.W., 1986. Morphological Projectile Point Typology: Replication, Experimentation and Technological Analysis. American Antiquity 51, 603–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Garrod, D.A.E., Bate, D.M.A. (Eds.), 1937. The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, Vol. 1: Excavations in the Wady el-Mughara. Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  23. Geneste, J.M., 1998. Comment on Plisson et S. Beyries “Pointes ou outils triangulaires, Données fonctionelles dans le Moustérien Levantin”. Paléorient 24, 20–22.Google Scholar
  24. Goudie, A.S., 1996. Climate: Past and Present. In: Adams, W.M., Goudie, A.S., Orme, A.R. (Eds.), The Physical Geography of Africa. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 34–59.Google Scholar
  25. Groombridge, B., Jenkins, M.D., 2002. World Atlas of Biodiversity: Earth's Living Resources in the 21st Century. University of California Press, Berkeley.Google Scholar
  26. Grünberg, J.M., 2002. Middle Palaeolithic birch-bark pitch. Antiquity 76, 15–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Henry, D.O., 1995. The Influence of Mobility Levels on Levallois Point Production, Late Levantine Mousterian, Southern Jordan. In: Dibble, H.L., Bar-Yosef, O. (Eds.), The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology. Prehistory Press, Madison, pp. 185–200.Google Scholar
  28. Henry, D.O. (Ed.), 2003. Neanderthals in the Levant: Behavioral Organization and the Beginnings of Human Modernity. Continuum, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Henshilwood, C.S., Marean, C.W., 2003. The Origin of Modern Human Behavior. Current Anthropology 44, 627–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Henshilwood, C.S., Sealey, J.C., Yates, R.C., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F.E., Klein, R.G., Poggenpoel, C., Niekirk, K.V., Watts, I., 2001. Blombos Cave, Southern Cape, South Africa: Preliminary Report on the 1992–1999 Excavations of Middle Stone Age Levels. Journal of Archaeological Science 28, 421–448.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Holdaway, S., 1989. Were There Hafted Projectile Points in the Mousterian? Journal of Field Archaeology 16, 79–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hughes, S.S., 1998. Getting to the Point: Evolutionary Change in Prehistoric Weaponry. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 5, 345–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kuhn, S.L., Stiner, M.C., 2001. The Antiquity of Hunter-Gatherers. In: Panter-Brick, C., Layton, R.H., Rowley-Conwy, P. (Eds.), Hunter-Gatherers: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 99–142.Google Scholar
  34. Kuhn, S.L., Stiner, M.C., 2006. What's a Mother to Do: A Hypothesis About the Division of Labor Among Neandertals and Modern Humans. Current Anthropology 47, 953–980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lane, P.J., 2005. Barbarous Tribes and Unrewarding Gyrations, The Changing Role of Ethnographic Imagination in African Archaeology. In: Stahl, A.B. (Ed.), African Archaeology: A Critical Introduction. Blackwell, Malden, pp. 24–54.Google Scholar
  36. Leakey, L.S.B., 1960. Adam's Ancestors (Fourth Edition). Harper&Row, New York.Google Scholar
  37. Lombard, M., 2005a. Evidence of hunting and hafting during the Middle Stone Age at Sibudu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: A Multianalytical Approach. Journal of Human Evolution 48, 279–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lombard, M., 2005b. The Howiesonspoort fo South Africa: What We Know, What We Think We Know, What We Need to Know. South African Humanities 17, 33–55.Google Scholar
  39. Lombard, M., 2005c. A Method for Identifying Stone Age Hunting Tools. South African Archaeological Bulletin 60, 115–120.Google Scholar
  40. MacArthur, R.H., Wilson, E.O., 1967. Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton University Press, Princeton.Google Scholar
  41. Marks, A., 1998. Comment on Plisson et S. Beyries “Pointes ou outils triangulaires? Données fonctionelles dans le Moustérien Levantin”. Paléorient 24, 18–20.Google Scholar
  42. Mazza, P.P.A., Martini, F., Sala, B., Magi, M., Colombini, M.P., Giachi, G., Landucci, F., Lemorini, C., Modugno, F., Ribechini, E., 2006. A New Palaeolithic Discovery: Tar-Hafted Stone Tools in a European Mid-Pleistocene Bone-Bearing Bed. Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 1310–1318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McBrearty, S., Brooks, A.S., 2000. The Revolution That Wasn't: A New Interpretation of the Origin of Modern Human Behavior. Journal of Human Evolution 39, 453–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McCown, T.D., 1937. Mugharet es-Skhul. Description and Excavations. In: Garrod, D., Bate, D.M.A. (Eds.), The Stone Age of Mount Carmel, Vol. 1: Excavations in the Wady el-Mughara. Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 91–112.Google Scholar
  45. McGarry, S., Bar-Matthews, M., Matthews, A., Vaks, A., Schilman, B., Ayalon, A., 2004. Constraints on Hydrological and Paleotemperature Variations in the Eastern Mediterranean Region in the Last 140 ka Given by the [delta]D Values of Speleothem Fluid Inclusions. Quaternary Science Reviews 23, 919–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Minichillo, T., 2005. Middle Stone Age Lithic Study, South Africa: An Examination of Modern Human Origins. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Washington.Google Scholar
  47. Moncel, M.-H., 2003. L'exploitation de l'espace et la mobilité des groupes humains au travers des assemblages lithique à la fin du Pléistocene moyen et au début du Pléistocène supérieur: La moy-enne vallée du Rhône entre Drôme et Ardèche, France. British Archaeological Reports International Series, No. S1184, Oxford.Google Scholar
  48. Moncel, M.-H., Moigne, A.-M., Combier, J., 2005. Pre-Neandertal Behaviour During Isotopic Stage 9 and the Beginning of Stage 8. New Data Concerning Fauna and Lithics in the Different Occupation Levels of Orgnac 3 (Ardeche, South-East France): Occupation Types. Journal of Archaeological Science 32, 1283–1301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Movius, H.L. Jr., 1950. A Wooden Spear of the Third Interglacial Age from Lower Saxony. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 6, 139–142.Google Scholar
  50. Oakley, K., Andrews, P., Keeley, L.H., Clark, J.D., 1977. A Re-appraisal of the Clacton Spearpoint. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 43, 13–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. O'Connell, J.F., 2006. How Did Modern Humans Displace Neanderthals? Insights from Hunter-Gatherer Ethnography and Archaeology. In: Conard, N. (Ed.), Neanderthals and Modern Humans Meet? Kerns, Tübingen.Google Scholar
  52. Oswalt, W., 1976. An Anthropological Analysis of Food-Getting Technology. Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  53. Pleurdeau, D., 2005. Human Technical Behavior in the African Middle Stone Age: The Lithic Assemblage of Porc-Epic Cave (Dire-Dawa, Ethiopia). African Archaeological Review 22, 177–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Plisson, H., Béyries, S., 1998. Pointes ou outils triangulaires? Données fonctionnelles dans le Moustérien levantin. Paléorient 24, 5–24.Google Scholar
  55. Rieder, H., 2003. Der Große Wurf der frühen Jäger: Nachbau alt-steinzeitlicher Speere. Biologie im Unserer Zeit 33, 156–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Rink, W.J., Richter, D., Schwarcz, H.P., Marks, A.E., Monigal, K., Kaufman, D., 2003. Age of the Middle Palaeolithic Site of Rosh Ein Mor, Central Negev, Israel: Implications for the Age Range of the Early Levantine Mousterian of the Levantine Corridor. Journal of Archaeological Science 30, 195–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rust, A., 1950. Die Höhlenfunde von Jabrud (Syrien). K. Wacholtz, Neumünster.Google Scholar
  58. Shea, J.J., 1988. Spear Points from the Middle Paleolithic of the Levant. Journal of Field Archaeology 15, 441–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shea, J.J., 1997. Middle Paleolithic Spear Point Technology. In: Knecht, H. (Ed.), Projectile Technology. Plenum, New York, pp. 79–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Shea, J.J., 1998. Neandertal and Early Modern Human Behavioral Variability: A Regional-Scale Approach to the Lithic Evidence for Hunting in the Levantine Mousterian. Current Anthropology 39, S45–S78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Shea, J.J., 2003. The Middle Paleolithic of the East Mediterranean Levant. Journal of World Prehistory 17, 313–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Shea, J.J., 2006. The Origins of Lithic Projectile Point Technology: Evidence from Africa, the Levant, and Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science 33, 823–846.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Shea, J.J., Brown, K., Davis, Z., 2002. Controlled Experiments with Middle Paleolithic Spear Points: Levallois Points. In: Mathieu, J.R. (Ed.), Experimental Archaeology: Replicating Past Objects, Behaviors, and Processes. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1035, Oxford, pp. 55–72.Google Scholar
  64. Shea, J.J., Davis, Z., Brown, K., 2001. Experimental Tests of Middle Paleolithic Spear Points Using a Calibrated Crossbow. Journal of Archaeological Science 28, 807–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Shott, M.J., 1997. Stones and Shafts Redux: The Metric Discrimination of Chipped-Stone Dart and Arrow Points. American Antiquity 62, 86–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Singer, R., Wymer, J., 1982. The Middle Stone Age at Klasies River Mouth in South Africa. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  67. Solecki, R.L., Solecki, R.S., 1986. A Reappraisal of Rust's Cultural Stratigraphy of Yabroud Shelter I. Paléorient 12, 53–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Solecki, R.L., Solecki, R.S., 1995. The Mousterian Industries of Yabrud Shelter 1: A Reconsideration. In: Dibble, H.L., Bar-Yosef, O. (Eds.), The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology. Prehistory Press Monographs in World Archaeology No. 23, Madison, pp. 381–398.Google Scholar
  69. Speth, J.D., 2004. News Flash: Negative Evidence Convicts Neanderthals of Gross Mental Incompetence. World Archaeology 36, 519–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Theime, H., 2000. Lower Palaeolithic Hunting Spears from Schöningen, Germany — The Oldest Spears in the World. Acta Anthropologica Sinica 19, 140–147.Google Scholar
  71. Thomas, D.H., 1978. Arrowheads and Atlatl Darts: How the Stones Got the Shaft. American Antiquity 43, 461–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Tixier, J., 1960. Les Pièces Pédonculées de l'Atérien. Libyca 6/7, 127–158.Google Scholar
  73. Trinkaus, E., Shipman, P., 1993. The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind. Knopf, New York.Google Scholar
  74. Villa, P., Lenoir, M., 2006. Hunting Weapons of the Middle Stone Age and the Middle Palaeolithic: Spear Points from Sibudu, Rose Cottage and Bouheben. Southern African Humanities 18, 89–112.Google Scholar
  75. Waters, M.R., Stafford, T.W. Jr., 2007. Redefining the Age of Clovis: Implications for the Peopling of the Americas. Science 315, 1122–1126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Wendorf, F., 1968. Site 117: A Nubian Final Paleolithic Graveyard near Jebel Sahaba, Sudan. In: Wendorf, F. (Ed.), The Prehistory of Nubia. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, pp. 954–996.Google Scholar
  77. Wendorf, F., Schild, R., 1992. The Middle Paleolithic of North Africa: A Status Report. In: Klees, F., Kuper, R. (Eds.), New Light on the Northeast African Past: Current Prehistoric Research. Heinrich-Barth Institut, Cologne, pp. 40–78.Google Scholar
  78. Wurz, S., 2002. Variability in the Middle Stone Age Lithic Sequence, 115,000–60,000 Years Ago at Klasies River, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science 29, 1001–1015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Yu, P.-L., 2006. From Atlatl to Bow and Arrow: Implicating Projectile Technology in Changing Systems of Hunter-Gatherer Mobility. In: Sellet, F., Greaves, R., Yu, P.-L. (Eds.), Archaeology and Ethnoarchaeology of Mobility. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, pp. 201–220.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • John J. Shea
    • 1
  1. 1.Anthropology DepartmentStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

Personalised recommendations