Testing for poisoned arrows in the Middle Stone Age: A tip cross-sectional analysis of backed microliths from southern Africa

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14 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Recent work indicated the possibility of hunting with poisoned bone arrowheads more than 60 thousand years ago in southern Africa. The interpretation rests on only a handful of bone points from Middle Stone Age contexts. Two southern African techno-complexes characterised by the knapping of backed microliths have, however, been linked to bow hunting in the past. These are the Wilton, dating from roughly 8000 years until a few centuries ago, and the Howiesons Poort dating to roughly between 67,000 and 58,000 years ago. Here I use the tip cross-sectional method to assess the likelihood of bow hunting with poisoned stone-tipped/barbed arrows for both of these techno-complexes. The results demonstrate that bow hunting with poisoned arrows was probably the preferred hunting strategy during the Holocene Wilton phase. Hunters may have introduced poisoned arrows to their arsenal during the much older Pleistocene Howiesons Poort phase, but they were probably more dependent on hunting with a combination of unpoisoned arrows and javelins (throwing spears). I also show that, during both phases, hunting with poisoned arrows may have been more frequent on the Savanna and Grassland biomes with summer and year-round rainfall regimes, instead of in the Fynbos winter-rain zone.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102630
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science: Reports
Volume34
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Bow hunting
  • Holocene
  • Howiesons Poort techno-complex
  • Pleistocene
  • Stone-tipped arrows
  • Wilton techno-complex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archeology (arts and humanities)
  • Archeology

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