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, 8 (11), e78092

Earliest Stone-Tipped Projectiles From the Ethiopian Rift Date to >279,000 Years Ago


Earliest Stone-Tipped Projectiles From the Ethiopian Rift Date to >279,000 Years Ago

Yonatan Sahle et al. PLoS One.

Erratum in


Projectile weapons (i.e. those delivered from a distance) enhanced prehistoric hunting efficiency by enabling higher impact delivery and hunting of a broader range of animals while reducing confrontations with dangerous prey species. Projectiles therefore provided a significant advantage over thrusting spears. Composite projectile technologies are considered indicative of complex behavior and pivotal to the successful spread of Homo sapiens. Direct evidence for such projectiles is thus far unknown from >80,000 years ago. Data from velocity-dependent microfracture features, diagnostic damage patterns, and artifact shape reported here indicate that pointed stone artifacts from Ethiopia were used as projectile weapons (in the form of hafted javelin tips) as early as >279,000 years ago. In combination with the existing archaeological, fossil and genetic evidence, these data isolate eastern Africa as a source of modern cultures and biology.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Location and stratigraphy of the Gademotta Fm.
(A) A map showing the Gademotta ridge and major archaeological localities: the Gademotta type-site and the Kulkuletti area. Inset map shows the relative location of key later Middle Pleistocene sites in the Ethiopian rift, namely (1) Herto, (2) Gademotta, and (3) Omo Kibish. (B) A revised composite stratigraphic section of the Gademotta Fm. and the placement of major archaeological sites.
Figure 2
Figure 2. A sample of Gademotta pointed artifacts exhibiting micro- and macrofracture features indicative of projectile weaponry.
(A, B) fracture wings on transverse fractures; (C, D) fracture wings on burin-like fractures; (E) impact fractures on two fracture fronts on the distal portion.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Box-and-Whisker plots of instantaneous fracture velocities for various impact types.
Comparison established by experimental work using obsidian raw material with a distortional wave velocity (C 2) of 3865 m/s . Boxes represent inter-quartile ranges; the horizontal lines inside the boxes represent the median values; the tails represent the non-outlier range.
Figure 4
Figure 4. Box-and-Whisker plots of TCSA and TCSP comparisons.
TCSA and TCSP plots of pointed pieces from experimental spear tips (Exprm); Klasies River main site MSA I (KRM); Gademotta (GDM). Solid dots represent outlier values.

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Cited by 3 PubMed Central articles


    1. Churchill SE, Rhodes JA (2009) The evolution of the human capacity for “killing at a distance”: The human fossil evidence for the evolution of projectile weaponry. In: Hublin, J-J, Richards MP, editors. The evolution of hominin diets: Integrating approaches to the study of Paleolithic subsistence. Springer. 201–210.
    1. Shea JJ (2006) The origins of lithic projectile point technology: Evidence from Africa, the Levant, and Europe. J Archaeol Sci 33: 823–846 doi:10.1016/j.jas.2005.10. 015 - DOI
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Grant support

University of Cape Town’s Center for African Origins initiative and the Paleontological Scientific Trust (Scatterlings of Africa Program) financially supported research. Wenner-Gren Foundation supported YS’s doctoral study. The Marie Curie Fellowship program supported LEM’s post-doctoral study. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.