Modern replicas of the Mandarin cave stone points were constructed and hafted onto shafts to assess their projectile performance, much as they would have been 54,000 years ago. Image by CC BY-SA contributors Laure Metz and Ludovic Slimak
We released a report in the journal Science Advances in February 2022 based on excavations in France’s Mandarin cave that established a new date for the arrival of the first Homo sapiens in Europe: 54,000 years ago. This date is 11,000 years earlier than the previous one.
Our research paper detailed the discovery of nine fossil teeth throughout the cave’s archaeological strata. Of the nine, eight were found to be from Neanderthals and one was found in one of the intermediate levels to be from a prehistoric human.
These and other evidence led us to conclude that the original Homo sapiens of Europe were eventually displaced by the arrival of the Neanderthals.
Amazingly, the solitary Homo sapiens teeth were found in the same stratum as around 1,500 small stone blades or bladelets, some of which were less than 1 centimeter in length.
All of these people belonged to what one of us, Ludovic Slimak, dubbed the “Neronian” tradition in 2004, after the Néron cave in the Ardèche area of France. There is no evidence of Neronian stone points among the Neanderthal strata that were deposited before and during the Neronian period.
Ksar Akil, located north of Beirut, is a prime example of how similar these constructions are to those created by other Homo sapiens throughout the eastern Mediterranean coast.
In research published this month in Science Advances, we found evidence that the first people to reach Europe, some 54,000 years ago, already knew how to use bows and arrows effectively. The date of these extraordinary technologies’ emergence in Eurasia has been pushed back by this finding by almost 40,000 years.
The development of mechanically propelled weapons, like as spears and arrows launched from throwing sticks (atlatls) or bows, is sometimes cited as evidence of the arrival of modern human groups in Europe during prehistory.
However, archaeologists have always had a hard time tracing the history of archery due to the fact that the materials used to make bows and arrows are notoriously bad at leaving fossils behind.
Lack of Visibility in Archaeology
The major piece of evidence for weapon technology in the European Paleolithic is armatures, which are hard points formed of stone, horn, or bone.
Wood, fibers, leather, resins, and sinew are all common materials used in archery, however, they are easily destroyed by moisture and time. This makes it tough for archaeologists to identify these tools.
Very recently, between 10 and 12 millennia ago, particularly in frozen ground or peat bogs, such at the Stellmoor site in Germany, have archery relics been unearthed in Eurasia. The examination of armatures places the invention of archery in Africa at around 70,000 years ago.
Certain flint or deer-antler armatures date back to the early periods of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe, more than 35,000 years ago. Nevertheless, the form and hafting of these armatures prevent us from knowing for sure that they were propelled by a bow.
In the European Upper Paleolithic period, more modern armatures are identical to one another, making it difficult to establish whether they were launched with a bow or an atlatl. This makes the archaeologically conceivable but difficult to verify the presence of archery during the European Upper Paleolithic period.
Prototypes for scientific experimentation
30% of the stone points found in the Mandarin cave weigh less than a few grams, and those that do are quite small in size (almost 40 percent of these tiny points present a maximum width of 10mm).
The first step in understanding how they may have been pushed was to create experimental reproductions. After sharpening the tips, we hafted them onto spear or arrow shafts to see how they performed when thrown, thrown back, and fired from bows. This gave us a chance to evaluate their range, accuracy, and other ballistic qualities.