Evidence for complex projectiles in Middle Paleolithic Ethiopia


Abstract: Complex projectiles—propulsion via mechanical aid—are considered an important technological innovation, with possible relevance for the successful Out-of-Africa dispersal of our species. Conclusive evidence for the beginning of this technology, however, is lacking from the early Late Pleistocene (ca. 130 to 70 thousand years ago; ka). Given the extremely limited applicability of relatively robust methods for validating stone-tipped projectile use, such as through fracture propagation velocity, converging lines of circumstantial evidence remain the best way to examine early complex projectiles. We assess here suggestions for an early Late Pleistocene origin of complex projectiles in Africa. Results from both previous and present independent approaches suggest a trajectory in which complex projectiles were likely adopted during the early Late Pleistocene in eastern Africa. At Aduma (Middle Awash, Ethiopia), morphometric, hafting, and impact damage patterns in several lithic point assemblages suggest a shift from simple spear technologies (thrusting and/or hand-cast) to complex projectiles. Broadly dated to 80–100 ka, lithic points from later phases of the Aduma succession represent a particularly strong candidate for projectile armatures most comparable to ethnographically known spearthrower darts, lending support for previous suggestions and warranting further investigations.

Notes: This is interesting, very interesting, because it pushes back the date of the invention of the atlatl back to the Middle Paleolithic, long before modern humans spread out of Africa, and also long before the earliest evidence for the atlatl in the archaeological record, which AFAIK is from Aurignacian Europe, it’s also telling because Native Americans lacked the atlatl until the advent of the Archaic period, so either the ancestors of the Native Americans lost the atlatl sometime prior to the peopling of the Americas or the atlatl wasn’t as common as previously believed. The Tasmanians also lacked the spearthrower or atlatl, despite ultimately coming from the same population that left Africa as the rest of us did, while the Australians *did* possess the spearthrower, called the *woomera* there, although it was of recent (Holocene) derivation.

3 thoughts on “Evidence for complex projectiles in Middle Paleolithic Ethiopia

  1. Yes, very interesting, and at odds with my hypothesis that the dart launcher originated in SEAsia along with the blowgun, to shoot high arboreal monkeys, developing from the wooden canoe paddle. I doubt their claims, but will see the paper. Thanks for posting it!


      1. I have doubts re. their interpretation. Historically in that region, locals used bow-arrow, thrusting & throwing spears, and blowpipes to fend off birds from field. No evidential use of dart launchers. I am wary of M. Petraglia’s claims on stone tool use pre/post Toba, and I have the same feeling on this claim.


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