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The importance of bows

March 6, 2023

Archaeologists have discovered 50,000 year-old arrowheads in a cave in southern France. (Cite.) Those are the oldest found in Europe. Humans may have carried that technology with them when they migrated from Africa. Older arrow heads are found on that continent.

The_Fair_Toxophilites_William_Powell_FrithI suspect many people misunderstand the technological leap that arrows represent. It is not just that they make hunting more efficient. Arrows require a bow. And a bow requires a bowstring. A culture that produces bowstrings will produce other things made with cordwork: tethers, tows, and carriers, moccasins and other clothing, tents, and even canoes. The practices of knotting, splicing, lashing, sewing, and related are a huge advance in material technology. Cordage from natural materials doesn’t survive the millenia. Arrowheads do, and show that a culture has made that technological leap. People who regularly make and use bowstrings will find all sorts of other uses for cordage.

Seemingly, Neanderthals never picked up on bows. Which suggests that cordwork may have eluded them. Perhaps cognition? Perhaps digital dexterity? Perhaps something more subtle, that prevented it from becoming a standard part of their toolkit. The authors of the first article guess it might be “cultural traditions.” That seems an unlikely explanation, since Neanderthals no doubt had a range of cultures, and intersected modern humans at different places and times.

I previously posted about ancient needles and awls, which also indicate this technological leap. There, I wrote that Neanderthals had them. Looking back at the articles I linked, there is one claim regarding bone awls at a Neanderthal site. There is a more recent paper claiming a Neanderthal stone tool in France had a bit of fiber stuck to it. Which are interesting. Perhaps less than conclusive.

That technological leap may be how humans managed to thrive in the Iberian peninsula through the last ice age. New genetic research shows where people survived, and where they didn’t, and how they migrated after. (Cite and cite.)

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