Arrows or spears?

Submitted by Sammy Smith (

Photo by Maggie Villiger; from the the PBS website.

You’re going hunting. You have both arrows and spears. Which do you choose?

After all, as Dr. Veronica Waweru, a research affiliate of the National Museums of Kenya and a postdoctoral fellow at Stony Brook University (NY) whose own research has focused on a site on the Kinangop plateau in Kenya, notes:

To any hunter, putting distance between yourself and prey that might potentially fight back is important. Here, arrows have an advantage over spears. Weapons also need to deliver lethal blows, induce massive bleeding or cause damage to internal organs. Penetration depth is therefore important.

Indeed, Dr. Waweru’s research suggests arrow use began much earlier in Africa than had previously been widely believed—perhaps about 100,000 years ago.

In a PBS blog linked to The Human Spark program series, Dr. Waweru laments:

Modern hunters often add a cocktail of poisons to the shafts of their arrows. These are derived from plants (such as the arrow poison tree) that have wide distribution in Africa. Did prehistoric hunters use arrows to deliver poisons to quarry? We may never know because poisons are unlikely to survive that long.

The Human Spark is a three-part series investigating the topic of human uniqueness hosted by Alan Alda. Read more about the series by clicking here.

The first broadcast of The Human Spark will be on January 6, 13, and 20, 2010.

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