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K. Kris Hirst

500,000 Year Old Spearpoints at Kathu Pan

By November 19, 2012

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Last week, researchers writing in Science magazine reported that they had unearthed evidence that our ancient hominid ancestors had been making spearpoints about 500,000 years ago, 200,000 years earlier than previously established. Some news!

Retouched Point from Kathu Pan 1
~500,000-year-old retouched point from Kathu Pan 1. The scale bar is 1 cm long. Image courtesy of Jayne Wilkins

The story about the Kathu Pan site in South Africa also involves "Fauresmith industries", a long-controversial stone technology wedged between middle and lower Paleolithic--so controversial that in 1965 it was "officially" abandoned as a term. Kathu Pan is may be changing all that--it's the first well-documented evidence of the co-occurrence between handaxes and blade technology, all dated to 500,000 years ago, and a significant transition to complex modern human behaviors.

Wilkins J, Schoville BJ, Brown KS, and Chazan M. 2012. Evidence for early hafted hunting technology. Science 338:942-946.

Note: The context of the site--an open-air site around a geological spring--is a serious issue for Kathu Pan, and the continuing Fauresmith controversy cannot as yet be resolved. See comments below.


November 20, 2012 at 3:58 am
(1) Doris Wolf says:

Dear Kris
Did you ever have any doubt about the theory of stone spear points? I did – and found totally different evidences. Read about it: ›Die Mobile Kunst der Altsteinzeit‹: http://www.doriswolf.com/wp/?page_id=6963
Regards Doris Wolf

November 20, 2012 at 4:20 am
(2) Kristin says:

I would like to read about the different evidence, but I can’t read German. “Read about it: ›Die Mobile Kunst der Altsteinzeit‹” Do you have a link in English?

November 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm
(3) Murmel Jones says:

When I followed the link provided by Ms Wolf in the comment above, it lead to some sort of private homepage with lots of text in german. Essentially, she is promoting her own interpretation of prehistoric stone tools, which in her opinion are neither tools nor weapons, but symbols of a prehistoric goddess (and, of course, all other researchers are wrong, and there is a conspiracy of patriarchal scientists against her results, and there were evil Indo-European Invaders, and of course the pyramids, the Sumerians, Tutanchamun, the Aryans, the Mother Goddess, Evil Christian Missionaries, etc, etc…)

November 21, 2012 at 8:33 am
(4) Kris Hirst says:

Here’s what John Hawks had to say:

Kathu Pan Spear Poins

and a couple of additional news stories:

When Stone Met Stick to Ease Hunters’ Work, Sindya N. Bhanoo in the New York Times

Human Ancestors Made Deadly Stone-Tipped Spears 500,000 Years Ago, Kate Wong in Scientific American

November 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm
(5) Rob Gargett says:

Hi, Kris.
I know it’s not your metier to be critical of the archaeological knowledge you present on your site. And I know I’m being a spoil-sport. However, quite apart from Wilkins et al.’s claims about the function of the pointy rocks from Kathu Pan 1, you should know that their dates are age estimates based on sand grains presumed to be contemporary with those self-same pointy rocks. Unfortunately for Wilkins, et al. and for the journal, Science, the context in which the two were found is a geomorphological feature that guarantees [yep, guarantees] that the sand and the stones are not contemporary. They’re found in a spring vent, which is a geological feature that’s notorious in the annals of archaeology for fooling well-meaning scientists into thinking that anything of interest is in association with anything else of interest.
Those interested in a more complete explanation should visit the Subversive Archaeologist, at: http://www.thesubversivearchaeologist.com/2012/11/there-ya-go-again-part-one-putative.html

November 24, 2012 at 7:46 am
(6) Kris Hirst says:

Thanks, Rob! Very useful indeed.

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