Determining the degree of influence of modern humans and other Homo species in Eurasia is key to understanding what led to the disappearance of archaic hominids such as Neanderthals. We know that Sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted in France and northern Spain for two or three thousand years. However, we still don’t know the nature of their interactions or what led to the demise of Neanderthals, but it is believed that the use of weapon technology such as bows, arrows and spears could have provided a key advantage to modern humans.
This is the case of the last discovery made in Grotte Mandrin, a rock shelter located near the Rhône river valley, in the south of France. This is the oldest evidence of archery use in Europe by Homo sapiens, around 54,000 years ago. “The use of these advanced technologies can be of crucial importance for understanding the remarkable expansion of modern populations,” said Laure Metz, an archaeologist specializing in the Paleolithic period at the University of Aix-Marseille (France) and the University of Connecticut, to SINC. . (USA) and lead author of the study published in the journal advances in science.
previous discoveries at this same archaeological site, they revealed the earliest known presence of modern humans in Europe between 56,800 and 51,700 years ago, through signs of the use of projectile weapons. The first modern human incursion into the Rhône Valley is associated with technologies previously unknown in any sector.
Now, the new research has found remains of other weapons, such as bows and arrows, which the authors say would have been key to modern humans’ advantage over Neanderthals during their early migrations into Neanderthal territory.
The use of these advanced technologies could be of crucial importance in understanding the remarkable expansion of modern populations.
Specifically, Metz and his colleagues recovered 852 well-defined spikes, blades, and slivers-like artifacts, many of which show wear patterns that indicate they were pushed or thrown (percussion motion) or used for sawing or cutting (percussion motion). of beat). ), as mentioned in the study. In all, they identified 383 objects with such patterns, including 196 with signs of percussion wear, mostly in dots, microdots and nanodots.
Tiny dots made by Homo sapiens 54,000 years ago and used as arrowheads. /Laure Metz/Ludovic Slimak
These findings suggest that weapons such as the bow and arrow may have been mastered during, rather than after, the incursion of modern humans into Neanderthal territory. That is, they offered Homo sapiens a significant advantage over Neanderthal colonists, which may have been a contributing factor to their demise.
Projectile weapons such as bows and arrows and launchers are thought to have abruptly emerged among modern humans in Eurasia during the Upper Paleolithic, approximately 45,000 years ago. The 2022 study also located at the Grotte Mandrin site uncovered 54,000-year-old modern human dental remains, suggesting that humans arrived in the area about 10,000 years earlier than previously thought.
Bow and arrow are more accurate and easy to use, don’t require as much strength and can be carried on the back
Metz points out that there is no evidence that the advantage of modern humans lies in the type of material they used, as these are small pieces of bone, rocks such as flint and probably wood, which have not been preserved. On the contrary, it is an advantage that consists of how to use these materials, what the archaeologist called technological competition.
“Modern humans were able to find many advantages in using a bow and arrow, something that Neanderthals did not have, which made a big difference. Bow and arrow are more accurate and easier to use, do not require as much strength and can be carried on the back “, enumerates Metz. “In addition, these weapons can be used for various hunting purposes, including fishing.”
Experimental reconstruction of the tiny Neronian dots found in the Grotte Mandrin using the same flint and reproducing the same technologies. / Ludovic Slimak
Possible weapon of war?
Their use for hunting is the most immediate utility that comes to mind when thinking about these tools. However, one of the more interesting questions about the find is trying to figure out what else modern humans might have used them for.
“Used for warfare, the bow and arrow has an obvious advantage: you can easily kill more people while staying away from the enemy,” says Metz. There is no archaeological evidence of this type of offensive use against other populations, either against their peers or against other hominids. But Metz suspects so.
“From an archaeological point of view, it is not easy to say. We know that they used them to hunt because the bones of the animals were in the caves, but we have no evidence of war”, explains the researcher. “However, the ethnographic data might lead us to assume that this was the case. We don’t see any primitive societies that did not engage in warfare.”
Used for war, the bow and arrows have an obvious advantage: you can easily kill more people while staying far from the enemy.
Part of Metz’s research focuses on the study of African populations. Specifically, Male and Tsaïmai. “One of these populations used weapons such as bows and arrows and the other did not. In fact, the latter refused to use them because they stated that their use is not human. They preferred to continue without using the bow and die for traditions”, says Metz.
Another interesting example mentioned by the main author of the study is that this technological competition between populations occurs in the Brazilian indigenous population of the Nambikwara. The Nambikwar people lead a nomadic life and their beliefs prevent them from using hammocks to rest, which is why they are also known as “floor sleepers”.
View of the archaeological excavations at the entrance to the Grotte Mandrin. /Philippe Psaila
Metz L. et al. Archery, technology of the first modern humans in Europe 54,000 years ago in Mandrin, France. advances in science (2023).