| 7 May 2011
Early humans assembled weapons in China 700,000 years ago
At a time when China's climate was chillier than it is today, a group of Homo erectus with heavy brow ridges, large robust teeth and a brain size approaching our own lived in a cave system in Zhoukoudian China. Last year a team of scientists used aluminum/beryllium dating to show that this Peking Man was about 700,000 years old.
"There is evidence that Homo erectus had physically adapted to the cold, but they probably also had to be doing something in terms of behaviour to handle the glacial period in northern China," said Professor Susan Antón, of New York University. A team of scientists led by Dr. Chen Shen, of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto Canada, have been re-examining the tools that Peking Man used.
"The new study suggests that Peking Man lithic technology was not simple as previously thought," writes Dr. Shen in the abstract of a paper presented at a recent Society for American Archaeology conference. "The micro-wear evidence indicates many typed tools were made for specific tasks related to processing animal substances."
Peking Man didn't just know how to butcher animals, he also knew the best way to hunt them - with the business end of a stone pointed spear. "Importantly, most pointed tools were probably hafted, and this provides arguably the earliest evidence for composition tools in the Chinese Middle Pleistocene," writes Shen. How exactly did they haft these weapons? Did Peking Man use sinew or some sort of sticky liquid?
In an email Dr. Shen said that he is in China now, continuing his research. He and his team are in the process of publishing their findings and cannot give media interviews until that is complete. Until then we are left with enticing possibilities - perhaps Homo erectus adapted to a cold climate in much the same way Homo sapiens did - by crafting spears to hunt animals and tools capable of efficiently butchering them.
Edited from Unreported Heritage News (27 April 2011)
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