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Discovery of oldest bow and arrow technology in Eurasia (phys.org)
80 points by diodorus 28 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 41 comments

When they talk about "tropical home", or "tropical rainforrest" they are making the assumption that the weather was the same 48.000 years ago, which was not.

The last glacial period goes from 120,000 and 11,500 years ago, so the weather in Sri Lanka at the time was probably like Germany today, even while being "tropical".

Using the world "tropical" will confuse most people, as they link the current word meaning with the one in the past, degrading it.

> The last glacial period goes from 120,000 and 11,500 years ago, so the weather in Sri Lanka at the time was probably like Germany today..

When it comes to the paleoclimate of current subtropical/tropical regions during glacial maxima, the question is how the 120 meter lower sea levels impacted the local hydrology. If the endemic species continued throughout one or more glacial maxima (e.g. gorillas, chimps, bonobos in the Congo basin, orangutans on Borneo/Sumatra) then the adapted ecosystem probably remained constant. The climate history of Sri Lanka should be well documented. My intuition is that tropical rainforest is a fine assumption.

>the weather in Sri Lanka at the time was probably like Germany today, even while being "tropical"

This seems like a pretty strong claim given the roughly equatorial location. Do you have expertise in the field or a source?

Really interesting find.

An old theme in archeology has been the importance of invention, in a chain of events leading to modernity. A pretty orthodox interpretation of neolithic cultural changes was: (1) surpluses from agriculture (2) division of labour (3) specialisation (4) invention (5) economic revolution (6) cities, castes, religion, complex society etc.

I don't think anyone meant this totally literally and linearly but, it was thought of as a chain of events.

Increasingly, neolithic and mesolithic finds seem to contradict it. In Gobeklli Tepeh, for example, #6 happened several millennia before #1. The bow seems to have been invented many times, and bow using culture use grew and receded many times.

The one concept I enjoyed most in "Sapiens" was a different concept of human progress: group size. The literal size of closely cooperative groups, but also federation and cultural supergroups that can exchange memes (and genes) fluidly.

The truth of it is an empirical question that we can't easily answer. As a speculative theory, I enjoy its indirectness. The path forward isn't defined a chain of milestones. It puts group psychology and cultural elements ahead of technological ones. Much of archeology seems parsimonious to it.

> I don't think anyone meant this totally literally and linearly but, it was thought of as a chain of events.

It was meant totally literally and linearly in the 19th century. Failing to have produced the latter steps on the way to civilization was taken to be a sign that you were a less evolved form of human being, and it was thus totally cool that you should be ruled over by the fully-evolved Europeans. Remember, this is the age of scientific racism, and any science which could help bolster the argument that Europeans were inherently superior would be eagerly drunk up.

I was probably overcompensating, trying to be civil.

Yes, imperialist/racist views of the 19th century used this narrative a lot. 20th century racism had a lot of pseudoarchaeology thrown into it too. The concept of "civilisation" especially. A lot of the actual theory is marxist though, a materialist narrative of the neolithic.

I do not think it is understood literally by scholars today.

Even with all the knowledge individuals ability has not changed much. We depend on infrastructure, cooperation and specialization. Take them away and life is miserable. Some may replicate fire, shelter, spear, pottery, basket, rope.

This also means people 50000 years ago had same ingenuity. As I understand our difference from chimps is ability to learn in adulthood (eternal childhood) and living in bigger groups. Domesticated version [1], just without floppy ears.

[1] https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal...

Group size was defined by food sources. You can't feed a large group by hunting-gathering - the food will be too far. Groups can convene when there's plenty of food but have to disperse again.

Perhaps. I mean, it is certainly true that everyone needs to eat.

OTOH, thinking of these as a chain of events is what I am calling the orthodox view. IE, new food sources (maybe because new food production/gathering methods) lead to larger groups and other complexity.

Gobekli Tepeh, for example, gives us a somewhat reversed picture. Preceding grain cultivation and other neolithic elements, we find a major cultural site. Acres of statuary, stone structures. But if we are going to narrate a chain of events... it can't be agriculture first, then large group sizes, then more. Complex religious, politics or whatever the Gobeklin Tepens were up to preceded agriculture. Their agriculture grew from a culture that already had large group sizes, and the religious/political/cultural machinery that comes with it.

Maybe pre existing group sizes demonstrated by the scale of the site created the demand for agriculture. Maybe large group sizes are necessary for discoveries like grain cultivation methods to spread.

I think you're reading way too much into Gobekli Tepeh and making the same mistakes we made a hundred years ago thinking that absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

The Gobekli Tepeh excavation was started in the mid-90s and it's still on-going. How its discoveries fit into the rest of anthropology is an open question and something as simple as a repeat analysis of the agricultural artifact dating could reverse the timeline.

I think it runs the other way.

There is an orthodox view of the chain of events. We can call it a theory, but it is more suggestive than predictive. Still, its only the strongest theory as long as it is most parsimonious with existing evidence, artifacts mostly. Artifacts are sparse, but it isn't totally absent. Maybe I'm over extrapolating, but not using lack of evidence as evidence.

Lack of evidence as evidence comes into play more in the the orthodox view before. It extrapolates a timeline of the fertile crescent. First comes semi-nomadic agriculture,^ then permanent villages, then towns, then "civilised" religion/politics/etc. The timeline assumes an absence of institutions like religion or politics from the absence of public buildings or monuments. Gobekli Tepeh is one hell of a public building, monument or whatever it is.

Gobekli Tepeh is firmly dated before any known agricultural, villages, towns, etc. The agriculture date is especially strong, because archeology agrees with genetics. It is some sort of big political/religious/cultural thing. Using the same logic as the theory I'm challenging, we need to reorder things... or maybe conclude we have no idea. That said, it seems like (most scholars agree) that the site was made by non agricultural people.

IMO, even concepts like settled/nomadic may need rethinking. How nomadic? What kind of nomadic. The range of possibilities is much bigger than village life.

It's possible that earlier evidence for agriculture will be discovered, which would mean ice age agriculture... possibly of species that are no longer cultivated. Gobekli Tepeh itself will definitely turn up more dates, very possibly older too.

In my opinion, Gobekli Tepe isn't interesting because it's suggestive of pre-agricultural sedentary societies. We know those existed a long, long time before recognizable domestication occurred and probably even before the LGM. Gobekli Tepe is interesting because it's clearly monumental a heck of a lot earlier than the traditional narrative thought was possible. Classically, archaeologists argued that monuments were a thing of "big, complex hierarchial societies with full agriculture". The modern counterexamples were dismissed as unrepresentative, anomalous, or "cultural transmission" (i.e. copy-cats). Newer generation folks, myself included, think it's a dumb dismissal and having sites to corroborate that is nice.

Unrelated, but there are species that were formerly cultivated by early foragers/farmers that got dropped over time. Rambling vetch is one example. There are some large preservation biases in what we're able to see of early sites. Grasses preserve best, so we've focused a bit too much on them relative to what was likely consumed.

I think we agree. I'm not even sure hobekki tepeh is evidence of sedentary society. It is evidence of what it is, primarily: the existence of a large monument/statuary site.

I even think "sedentary" becomes an less interesting characteristic, largely because of GT. If something like GT existed before agricultural economies, then sedentary is not a "necessary condition" for the development of monumental culture.

Sedentary agriculturalism is interesting because it later became prominent, but not as a milestone.

Overall, my anateur interpretation of the site is "culture comes first." This is at odds with both the Marxist & Victorian views that put "material conditions" first.

My other speculative take is that invention is constant. People probably "invented agricultural" many times. They may have even practiced it in significant ways. The spread an development of ideas is the limiting factor, not invention. GT, as place of gathering or some other custom that involved large groups, makes a lot more sense as a contributor to what happened next in Anatolian history

GT isn't just early, it's adjacent to and immediately precedes one of the earliest known hotspots for neolithic human activity. I don't think that's a coincidence.

The Precolumbian Pacific Northwest would take issue with that statement. There is also an argument that Peruvian urban development (in the Norte Chico area) predates the domestication of a primary grain as a food crop.

That didn't seem to stop Genghis Khan uniting the nomadic Mongol tribes?

They were pastoralists long before that.

Oh right. I'd always thought that the idea of agriculture leading to civilisation, it referred exclusively to farms and fields of crops.

If you include pastoralists, was there really any time when most humans were hunter-gatherer?

Yes, about the same 98% of human history that we also weren't farmers. Domestication of animals and crops in the near east occurred very close in time.

It does generally exclude pastoralists. In fact, it pretty much ignores and overlooks them.

There was definitely a time when most humans were hunter-gatherers, including or excluding pastoralists. The earliest evidence fore very much of either is only about 8000 years old. Hunting and gathering was probably the primary mode of food production while the pyramids were being built... even in areas near egypt.

There is a very big BUT though. "Hunting and gathering" is an extremely big universe of possible lifestyles. Agriculture is a lot more monolithic.

I wonder if this points to the importance of "group technologies", such as rule of law and democracy. Because they're so intangible they've very hard to reconstruct from societies where we don't have written records. But they can greatly affect success and prosperity. And they're also a lot more fragile - potentially can regress within a generation.

To me, these are the big questions. It's also hard to avoid bias, since we have such strong and abstract feelings about "group technologies, such as rule of law and democracy."

Fragility is an interesting question. I think Richard Dawkins' "meme" concept needs some more study. I suspect that "rule of law and democracy" might be extremely antifragile, on some level. The institutions (courts, parliaments) can break. You can even break with the belief system. The memes will still exist though, in some form. They're hard to shake, eve if you want to.

Consider money. If society collapsed and reformed, money would certainly still exist. Even if no survivors are experts in money, it will be near impossible to shake the meme. It wouldn't be surprising if the concepts suddenly reemerge years later. Is this because money is inevitable, or is it because memes are resilient?

A lot of modern ponderings about "human nature" is framed as "nature vs nurture." Simplistically, nature is inevitable. Nurture is not. It is surprisingly (and frustratingly) difficult to nature and nurture apart, IRL.

I would reframe it as "memetic vs genetic." Group technologies are memes. They exist in, and also define culture.

This is ultimately YNH's frame for history. Up until point X in time, genes defined humanity. After point X, memes define humanity. Memetics works faster, but in a similar way.

Institutions like democracy and rule of law seem to be solutions to coordination problems that only emerge once a society grows much larger—both geographically and population-wise—than a hunter-gatherer group.

Why is it that these articles never show the $item? Even a reconstruction would be nice.

It's not explicitly pointed out, but some of the artifacts in the very first image (directly under the title for me) are the arrowheads mentioned. I wouldn't expect them to have recovered wood or other soft, organic materials, so there probably isn't anything else.

Bows are interesting because they allow time-shifting. An atlatl helps impedance match between human biomechanical force generation and spear inertia, but a bow allows a pull over a relatively long period of time to be stored, then used to accelerate an arrow over a relatively short period.

With the caveat that most movie depict people holding war bow for unrealistic amount of time, treating them like modern weapons whereas it takes non-trivial strength to hold a bow once it is armed.

See this article for more information: https://acoup.blog/2020/05/28/collections-the-battle-of-helm...

The youtube channel Todd's Workshop did an interesting video with Tobias Capwell and a few others examining the effectiveness of English longbows against plate armor that I found interesting in a number of respects. In the video they had archer Joe Gibbs shooting a 160lb longbow. For this, he uses a posture that looks unusual by modern archery standards but which is evidently supported by contemporary illustrations of English longbowmen. Apparently this unusual posture is the only way he can manage to draw bows like this at all (he can draw up to 200lb bows like this.) He seems to be able to hold the bow drawn for a moment or two, but it's a far cry from what movies generally depict.


Excellent. He's got slings and crossbows as well...

I suppose a sling is a little bit of both, since some energy is stored in the projectile as it's swung around in preparation for a throw.

True, and thinking that way, TIL that a trebuchet "is" a scaled-up libration-limited sling.

I like how first appearance reflects how hard it is to replicate for individual. Is there a place with a timeline? The first appearance of spear, bow, pottery, basket, cloth, wheel, wood joins, etc? And the way how it was done, like sharpening spear on fire, pottery without wheel.

Why use "Eurasia" instead of Asia? Sri Lanka is nowhere near Europe...

You can consider Europe and Asia the same portion of land, aka a continent, hence Euroasia as a continent, because it is, there is no big amounts of water in between.

This is used in Archeology because humans could travel easily across the same pieces of land. E.g 10.000 years ago humans could cross easily the English channel because it did not exist as the water level was way lower.

There are barriers that isolate parts of Europe and Asia, like desserts and mountains, but very early there were determined humans that crossed them.

As a good example of this, the peoples who now call themselves Europeans are descended from central Asians who exterminated (entirely on the male line, mostly on the female)[1] the prior indigenous European population about 4500 years ago. The Eurasian continent's geography is conducive to large scale migrations of people over relatively short time periods. The suspected proto-indo-european migration that is the suspected ancestor group of both western European and south Asian Indians is a good example. It's a wildly complicated area where we have archaeological, linguistic, and now genetic evidence that can be difficult to tease out and then to make things even harder there are often political complications too.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_history_of_Europe#Gene...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-Europeans

Brilliant, eye opening explanation. Thanks! Would the Hymalaian chain be considered a southern border with India, in the archeological sense?

Not an archaeologist, just someone who reads a bit, but yes. Any effectively impassable barrier to large scale travel would qualify. For most of the time modern humans have been extant that meant the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Himalayas, and the Sahara desert to name a few really big ones. This is not to say that nobody ever crossed these barriers, they just didn't in any quantity. There are plenty of anomalous finds, like the apparently Solutrean tools found in North America that are dated 19,000 to 26,000 years ago[1]. One explanation is that it's just a coincidence, another is that a group of ancient Europeans (who by the way were probably not very related to modern Europeans) found their way to North America. My personal opinion is the most scientifically sound way to figure out these questions is genetic analysis of any skeletons that can be found in the area. However digging up American Indian grave sites for sequencing presents serious ethical considerations, to put it mildly.

[1] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/new-eviden...

From Wikipedia: A continent is one of several very large landmasses. Generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven regions are commonly regarded as continents.

Always thought a continent was a clearly defined.

There's also the issue of tectonic plates. The Eurasian plate is one, the Indian plate is another, and the Arabian plate is a third. So while all three might be part of Eurasia from the perspective of archaeology they're different geologically.

Plates with large land masses are the Eurasian, Australian, North American, South American, African, Arabian, Indian, and Antarctic. The Caribbean plate has part of central America and several large islands on it, the Pacific plate has a number of large islands like Hawaii (and part of New Zealand), the Cocos plate has the tip of Baja California, and IIRC the remaining plates have only small islands (Filipino, Juan de Fuca, Nazca, and Scotia plates).

So by a definition of "tectonic plate with large landmass" you'd get at least 8 continents.

Ironically though, Sri Lanka is separated from mainland Eurasia by water.

This is common in archaeological and historical anthropological circles, where they're discussing time frames and historical eras where the distinction between Europe and Asia doesn't really matter. Populations, cultures and genetic groups ranged across the land mass freely so distinguishing them all the time would just be really awkward. There's no significant topological border and so the distinction just isn't useful in this context.

The comparison is with Africa - these are the oldest bows found in Europe or Asia.

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