Stone Age harpoon found on the island of Timor

A 35,000-year-old piece of carved bone found on Timor, an island between Java and Papua New Guinea, indicates that complex hunting weapons were manufactured much earlier than previously thought in Australasia.

Stone Age harpoon found on the island of Timor
An ancient piece of carved bone (both sides shown) was probably the base of a harpoon point that inhabitants of Timor attached to a wooden shaft. The artifact is slightly less than one inch long and about one-half inch wide [Credit: Journal of Human Evolution]
A team led by archaeologist Sue O’Connor of Australian National University in Canberra has unearthed, in a project that began in 2000, what it regards as the broken butt of a bone harpoon point. Three closely spaced notches were carved on each side of the artifact, above a shaft that tapers to a rounded bottom.

Wear on the notches and residue of a sticky substance close to the bottom suggest the point was tied and glued to a slot on the side of a wooden handle or inserted into a split hollow shaft, the researchers report January 15 in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Stone Age harpoon found on the island of Timor
A Stone Age hunting artifact from Timor — shown in an artist's reconstruction of what the now-missing point looked like — could have been bound against the side of wooden shaft (left), or inserted into a split, hollow length of bamboo (right) [Credit: Journal of Human Evolution]
Stone Age islanders threw spears from boats at large fish and other sea prey, O’Connor proposes.

Until now, comparably complex hunting weapons made on islands near Timor dated to no more than several hundred years ago. Curiously, 80,000- to 90,000-year-old African bone spear points display notches similar to those on the Timor find, O’Connor says.

Author: Bruce Bower | Source: ScienceNews [January 21, 2014]

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