back to article What made us human? Being armed with lethal ranged weapons

Boffins investigating a find of ancient stone blades over 70 thousand years old argue that it was possession of advanced ranged weapons - and the organisation to make and use them - which allowed humanity to defeat its early rivals and spread out to conquer the world. Don't bring a knife to a spear fight The small stone …


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  1. Ted Treen

    This could be a problem...

    The world's last surviving neanderthal (John Prescott) might be advised he has a damages case against Homo Sapiens...

  2. Psyx

    "The paper may also cause some disturbance in the debate on gun control in various nations, particularly the USA where this is a heated dispute. There would now seem to be some scientific evidence that an affinity for powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human."

    Seriously? Someone would use the excuse that people half a million years ago used spears, so they should be allowed to own a firearm?

    So... I guess breeding via rape and murdering any humans that look a bit different to you when they're within a mile of your home should be OK in the States too, then? Oh... wait...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Psyx

        Re: Ummm...

        "I think that may have been what we call a 'joke' in the UK."

        Yeah, I got that, thanks. Hence my tongue-in-cheek and sarcastic reply. Clearly I should have labelled it as such, for people like yourself.

    2. disgruntled yank

      What makes who human?

      1, Apparently what makes much of the commentariat human is not possessing US citizenship.

      2. Glad to be of service, and I'm delighted that we can make someone happy.

      3. When did we replace the French, and why hasn't our cuisine improved proportionally?

      4. But how does a speculation by an English journalist tell the commentariat that it is open season on the domestic manners of the Americans?

      1. Eddy Ito

        Re: What makes who human?

        I'm assuming the commentard is the typical frothy type. You must have seen them before, it doesn't take but a half sentence and they've worked themselves into a full on lather. It makes them quite easy to spot and it equally makes their logical faculties a bit slippery. It probably stems from the same irrational fear that makes one species of homo to wipe out another based on prejudice acquired from watching too much telly or hanging out on fringe blogs that represent the ugly extremities of the red & blue parties.

    3. Morely the IT Guy

      "I guess breeding via rape and murdering any humans that look a bit different to you when they're within a mile of your home should be OK in the States too, then?"

      Well, Psyx, that's certainly the argument used by the Republican Party in their recent campaign.

      1. Psyx
        Thumb Up

        "Well, Psyx, that's certainly the argument used by the Republican Party in their recent campaign."

        Kinda my pokey-fun point. It appears to have flown over a few people's heads.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      not really

      Not really, there is a significant overlap between the "no gun control" nutter set and the "earth has existed only for 6k years" set. You do not really expect the latter set of nutters to use an argument which implies evolution and 30k+ of human existence to justify guns.

      1. Rick Brasche

        Re: not really

        significant overlap between the "gun control uber alles" nutter set and the "already serving time for felony assault/theft" set too. Not to mention even more overlap when you add the "spent most of their formative and adult years under perception and mood altering chemicals" crowd.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: not really

          Just noticed the downvote to this and the previous comment.

          Eric, was that you?

        2. jonathan 11

          Re: you have that backward

          >> significant overlap between the "gun control uber alles" nutter set and the:

          >> "already serving time for felony assault/theft" set too.

          Actually no. This set are highly supportive of gun control.

          >> Not to mention even more overlap when you add the "spent most of their formative and adult years under perception and mood altering chemicals" crowd

          Also no. This set vote overwhelmingly Democratic Party in both myth and truth and are largely anti-gun. These tend to be single-issue 'legalize drugs' voters.

          The pro-gun types are:

          1) Libertarians - on the basis of personal freedom principles and/or fear of kleptocratic government (justified imho).

          2) The religious - on the basis of fear of persecution by major reason why the US was formed in the first place. Currently not justified but these guys take the long view...which is hard to argue with IMO. There is an 'earth is only 6k years old' subgroup in this - very small but a popular target since the belief is pretty far from the mainstream

          3) Hunters, sportsmen, and former military types - basically people who see guns as just another tool or hobby item. LOTS of these guys

          4) Fear of crime types - not very many of these least not that I've found. I think this is limited to urban voters in bad or 'gentrifying' areas and border areas with serious gang activity (southwest MS13, etc). In suburban and exurban America there is not much random crime and the latter group (exurb/rural) are pretty much captured in category 3

          Fear of government types dominate the pro-gun side of the debate (and this is the founding reason for the right in the constitution). Fear of crime topics dominate the discussion as that is the only lens through which the media want to have any discussion as the media are overwhelmingly statist.

  3. Gordon Pryra

    Don't half of America think any belief in the existence of Neanderthal man is blasphemy?

    Or was that Science?

  4. Eddie Edwards

    Nice troll

    "There would now seem to be some scientific evidence that an affinity for powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human."

    Nice troll. Equally, there's scientific evidence that rape is "a vital part of what makes us human", so let's legalize that too. Fuck those neo-sapiens and their "civilization" bullshit.

    1. Dave 142

      Re: Nice troll

      Rape was uncommon, even unheard of, in hunter-gatherer tribes because the levels of promiscuity were so high that no one really felt the need. It's only once people started getting agriculture, property & religion that some idiot decided people needed to get all repressed.

      1. Hollerith 1

        Re: Nice troll

        And your proof is...? There's another story suggested that, as soon as humans started roaming out to new territories, they began bumping into other similarly-roaming groups and the 'us' and 'them' kicked in, and all forms of violence ensured, from rape to mass murder.

        Or: that the threat of small groups of humans dying out for lack of sufficient young made the killing of rival males in anothe group and the raping/enslaving of their females a popular activity, when groups met. All the age-old cults of fertility and the wish for a 'quiver-full' stems from this fear of local-group extinction, and this fear justified violence.

        Or none of the above. Who knows, until we come across evidence?

        1. Steve 114
          Thumb Up

          Re: Nice troll

          Seems a fair bet that all Homo Sapiens preserve genocidal instincts. Saying it shouldn't be so doesn't make it not so. Beware any groups who do not look and think like you (or even wear different football scarves). And do not eat their babies.

        2. Jesrad

          Re: Nice troll

          @hollerith 1

          I cannot quite answer on the history of rape, but we now know war is a recent invention / trait of humans: in "the birth of war" published by Natural History (Jul/Aug 2003, Vol. 112, Issue 6), Ferguson&Brian estimate from skeleton remains that warfare or at the very least mass homicide appeared roughly 8000 years ago, at the same time as agriculture.

      2. P. Lee

        Re: Nice troll

        > Rape was uncommon, even unheard of, in hunter-gatherer tribes because the levels of promiscuity were so high

        So your saying that if women have sex with any man who asks then its all good because they won't have to be forced? What a deal! I wonder how many women would actually like to have sex with any man who saw them on a Friday night?

        Amongst other things, the christian restrictions on promiscuity prevent women from being used and dumped with childcare responsibilities. You may think contraception negates this need, but the number of single-parent families would seem to indicate otherwise. Marriage makes your partner a partner, not just a means of satisfying your own passing whims. Far from suppressing sex, Paul tells people its wrong to deprive their partners of sex.

        I'm not sure what other religions teach, but don't confuse "responsible" and "faithful" (or even "has kids") with "repressed." Apart from a ban on bringing other people or animals (alive or dead) into a marriage, I can't think of anything which isn't allowed except being mean and depriving your partner of sex.

        In the context of a woman actually having a partner who is bound to help support a potential family, the likelihood of sex is probably rather higher than in a free-for-all with no strings attached.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "childcare responsibilities"

          Even in 19th century England there were hardly any "childcare responsibilities" among the poorer social classes. Unwanted children were frequently just left to fend for themselves (die).

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Nice troll

      All of sociobiology is trolling, as far as I can tell - nothing but contentious and annoying assertions based on vapid generalizations, with no possibility of falsification.

      Page may have inserted this particular bit as a joke, as some have suggested in the comments. But serious or in jest, it's no more insightful or amusing than the rest of the field.

  5. Harvey Trowell


    Spears don't kill people, rappers do.

  6. ravenviz Silver badge

    "powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human"

    Maybe that's what made us human, what makes us human is compassion and empathy.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge


      put it in where you see fit. No?

    2. hplasm

      Re: "powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human"

      ...what *keeps* us human is compassion and empathy.

    3. P. Lee

      Re: "powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human"

      That would make the archer fish human, which it clearly isn't.


      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: "powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human"

        Er, no, that's what would make the archer fish an archer fish.

    4. Grave

      Re: "powerful, lethal ranged weapons is a vital part of what makes us human"

      what makes us human is the ability to think and imagine

      emotions/instincts, etc, are basic animal traits

  7. randygrenier

    We still have Neanderthals in the U.S. They are called the House of Representatives.

  8. Bakunin

    The story of human history

    Who has the bigger stick.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      human-v-Neanderthal struggle

      Seeing as the population density of both species was absolutely tiny at the time they coexisted I always find it a bit hard to imagine them competing. Presumably they hardly ever met each other. However, it is well known that men have much larger penises than other primates so perhaps humans triumphed over Neanderthals by having larger cocks. Isn't that an even better theory?

      1. 100113.1537

        Re: human-v-Neanderthal struggle

        Not sure about evolutionary pressure on cock size, but I remember a wonderful guest lecture on inheritance of bollock size in primates. This was one guest lecture that was both well attended and got rapt attention!

        Shame I can't remember any of the details anymore - memory beyond 40 years was not much of an advantageous trait when the life expectancy was 35 or so!

      2. JEDIDIAH

        Re: human-v-Neanderthal struggle

        This whole thing reminded me of old educational movies from the 60 that were big on this "Man as hunter" sort of thing. I almost wonder if Ted Nugent didn't lead the research team here.

    2. IglooDude

      Re: The story of human history

      I beg to differ - per the article, it's not who has the bigger stick, it's who makes better use of their stick.

      1. Glenn Charles

        Re: The story of human history

        Sounds like stick shift to me.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Weapons - a tradition proudly kept going in South Africa

    Umshini wami (Bring me my machine gun) being a song in use until recently

    1. Scroticus Canis

      Re: Weapons - a tradition proudly kept going in South Africa

      Until recently? Thought Zoomer was humming the words after Marikana, the cops certainly were! As would I be if faced by a mob of spear, panga and knobkerrie wielders running at me.

      Was about to say on a more serious note, but that would belittle the savagery and violence currently destroying this beautiful county, so let me say rather concerning the article.

      It is patently wrong especially when written by South Africans. They are forgetting the first real power down this way was the Zulu people but only after Shaka introduce the stabbing spear for close and personal combat. Before that intertribal fights were ineffective as they would line up and chuck spears at each other (dodgeable) while shouting insults; low death toll and no resolution in most cases. When Shaka forged the impi way of fighting a coordinated body of men swept in and cut down the opposition in the same way the Romans did. It is how the Zulu empire was forged and was also used to create the Matabile kingdom in Zimbabwe. Only guns eventually overcame that.

  10. Jesrad

    ""When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach," explains Professor Curtis Marean, an expert in stone weapons who was instrumental in the research."

    Neandertals had already been gone, for maybe thousands of years, when this happened. Also, hominids as early a homo habilis made stone tools (Oldowan) over 2 million years ago. "Modern" human dates back a lot farther down the past than a mere 70k years.

    1. Gerhard den Hollander

      I thought there was a recent study that showed that home sapiens and the neanderthal had interbred ?

      then again, there were equally recent studies that shows they didnt. Thought the most recent one suggests that they did. (see the below 3 links, aug 24, aug 25 and oct 5).

      If neanderthal was al;ready gone when men came out of africa, the did they interbreed or not studies would not have been necesary.

    2. Lars Silver badge

      As far as I understand we lived a long time side by side with the Neanderthals, even at the same places. My view about why they disappeared is that we committed the, perhaps first, homicide in our great history. Other more silly and better accepted (by the "church", within us) have been invented. Of course even funnier opinions can be found about our history like the one by Sarah Palin who believes we walked the world together with the dinosaurs.

      "Reality" is full of surprises, especially in the bible belt (not restricted to the USA) where the Neanderthals together with dinosaurs disappeared only yesterday in our 6000 year history. So, I find it quite logical that we invented "projectiles with greater killing reach". We are still very good at inventing and using them.

      1. Jesrad

        Genetic evidence is so far inconclusive on exactly what amount and what form of interbreeding occured between Sapiens, Neandertals and Denisovans. We have significant shared nuclear DNA, but no shared mitochondrial DNA, with both of them. Some think that all female Sapiens were absolutely unable to conceive from N or D males for some reason, but not the other way around. IMO this is better explained by the overall one-sided migration of Sapiens outward from Africa combined with the old tradition of sending young adult males to marry into the neighbouring tribes to strengthen social ties with them and reduce interbreeding within the tribe itself. After all, the transition lasted much longer than all of recorded history, so that's plenty of time for a even such a slow swamping to show that much of an effect.

        As for the disappearance of Ns we have not found any evidence of mass homicides occurring between Neandertals and Sapiens. The best archeological traces we have show that, basically, our ancestors migrated into Europe right after Neandertals went extinct there, or maybe just as they went extinct. The more probable cause of this extinction, IMO, is climate change, and I think this is also why Sapiens started migrating all over the world in that same period. Modern humans are savannah pack hunter-gatherers, evolutionarily speaking, so a warming world may have been an invitation to them. On the other hand Neandertals had specific adaptations to their environment, in particular cold weather.

        Anyway, we don't know for sure.

  11. Dave 142

    Weapon of War???

    There isn't actually any solid evidence in this that these weapons were ever used in warfare rather than just for hunting.

    1. Allan George Dyer

      Re: Weapon of War???

      Are you talking about the ancient spears, or the guns and US constitution?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The American perspective

    As a citizen of the United States, I would just like to clarify my philosophy on the matter:

    Urgh! Fire GOOD! Me like shapr rocks! Cut good!

  13. donrappe

    What makes us human is our ability to communicate ideas with words. e.g. "Where did you get those berries?" or "How did you make that spear point?" or "Let's head off into the bushes. Maybe there are some mushrooms there." The notion that we differ from other animals by intelligence or ferocity is a simple conceit. The ability to communicate ideas is an evolutionary change from the other large primates and accounts for all our significant differences. The other major difference is that our females are always ready and do not broadcast when they are in season.

    1. Lars Silver badge

      "do not broadcast when they are in season"

      Well my wife does, incidentally are you married?.

  14. Tom 7

    All microliths do

    is make the recipient bleed to death faster.

    In terms of hunting this means you can find the corpse and eat it - that's the advantage it gives you!

    In terms of fighting others it really means sod all. It doesn't give you a noticeable advantage in stone age battle - a stone pointed spear isn't a lot more useful than a fire hardened weapon of the same size. You may wish to try this at home.

  15. Joe User

    Desperate or drunk?

    Homo sapiens sapiens shagged Homo sapiens neanderthalensis? I didn't know that beer was invented that long ago....

  16. Painless

    Obviously you guys don't know about the 'real' science

    Because if you had been paying attention to the great wisdom of our Republican nominees, you'd know that it's not possible that rape is part of what makes us Human. Everybody KNOWS that the body has ways of shutting down pregnancy so you don't get pregnant from 'real' rape. Sheesh!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As far as I can see


  18. Rick Brasche

    in the same tune as a similar song in a controversial puppet movie

    "Humanity...F**k Yeah! "

  19. Eddy Ito

    "What made us human?"

    Then: "Being armed with lethal ranged weapons"

    Now: Being armed with patents, money, briefcases and suits.

    How the mighty have fallen.

  20. bep

    Hunting not fighting

    Not directly addressed in the article, but I thought the advantage these weapons gave you was in hunting big and fast game. This allowed modern humans to hunt more species over a wider range. As other have pointed out, weapons you chuck away have a use in fighting but one rather significant drawback; once you've chucked it, it's gone, and the other bloke now has it and can chuck it back (OK they might not have the woomeras, as we call them around here, but would that really make that big a difference?). So I believe the theory is that we out-competed the Neaderthals, rather than just topping or enslaving them.

  21. Frumious Bandersnatch

    I was going to post that I found this article disappointing...

    ... due to the lack of atlatls. But then, lo!, there they are in paragraph 3. Top notch!

  22. Esskay

    It's kind of ironic

    That the next war will be fought and won by people sitting behind computer screens who couldn't throw a spear without seriously damaging themselves.

  23. Allan George Dyer


    Obviously a lot more important than a few pointy things. You can collect more food, store and share it when you get back to your camp. Unfortunately, the evidence disappears quickly, so we tend to think about the aggressive Stone Age, not the Basketweaving age.

    Also leads to the making of clay pots, storing liquids and... see the icon!

    1. Tom 7

      Re: Basketweaving!

      Good point there!

      The one thing about pointy weapons is they allow you to take the innovation and wealth away from its creators and also gives the illusion (to those not paying attention) that as those with weapons somehow created the wealth or that somehow wealth needs weapons.

      These days weapons go under the name of banks but achieve much the same result.

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