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Based on research in France’s Mandrin Cave, in February 2022 we published a study in the journal Scientific progress which dismisses the earliest evidence of the former’s arrival Homo sapiens in Europe by 54,000 years ago – 11 millennia earlier than previously thought.

In the study, we described nine fossil teeth excavated from all the archaeological layers in the cave. Eight were identified as Neanderthals, but one from one of the middle layers belonged to the Paleolithic Homo sapiens. Based on these and other data, we found that these early Homo sapiens of Europe were later replaced by Neanderthal populations.

The single Homo sapiens tooth was found in a remarkable and rich archaeological layer that also included approximately 1,500 small stone blades or blades – some less than 1 centimeter in length. They were all part of the “Neronian” tradition, named in 2004 by one of us, Ludovic Slimac, after the Cave of Nero in the Ardèche region of France. Nero’s stone tools are distinctive, and no similar tops have been found in the layers left by the Neanderthals who inhabited the rock shelter before and after. They also have striking parallels to those made by others Homo sapiens along the eastern Mediterranean coast, as shown at the site of Ksar Akil northeast of Beirut.

View of the archaeological site at the entrance to the Mandrin French cave. Ludovik Slimak, CC BY-ND

This month in the diary Scientific progress, we published a study announcing that the people who arrived in Europe about 54,000 years ago mastered the use of bows and arrows. This discovery shifts the origin of these remarkable technologies to Eurasia by approximately 40,000 years.

The appearance in prehistory of mechanically propelled weapons—spearheads or arrows sent by throwing sticks (atlatls) or bows—is generally seen as one of the hallmarks of the advance of modern human populations toward the European continent. However, the origins of archery have always been archaeologically difficult to trace, as the materials used tend to disappear from the fossil record.

Archaeological invisibility / bow hunting

Armatures—hard points made of stone, horn, or bone—represent the primary evidence of weapon technology in the European Paleolithic. However, the materials associated with archery—wood, fibers, leather, resins, and tendons—are perishable and therefore rarely preserved. This makes the archaeological recognition of these technologies difficult.

Partially preserved archery equipment has only been found in Eurasia more recently, between 10 and 12 millennia ago, and in frozen ground or peat bogs, as at the Stellmoor site in Germany. Based on armature analysis, archery is already well documented in Africa by approximately 70,000 years ago. While some flint or antler armatures suggest the existence of archery from the early phases of the Upper Paleolithic in Europe more than 35,000 years ago, their shape and the way they were carried – attached to a shaft or handle – do not allow for confirmation. that they were powered by a bow.

The newer armatures from the European Upper Palaeolithic have similarities to each other, which does not allow us to clearly determine whether they were powered by a bow or an atlatl. This makes the possible existence of archery during the European Upper Paleolithic archaeologically plausible but difficult to establish.

Experimental cues /

bow hunting


The stone points found in Mandrin Cave are extremely light (30% weigh hardly more than a few grams) and small (almost 40% of these small points have a maximum width of 10 mm).

To determine how they might have been driven, the first step was to make experimental replicas. We then clipped the newly made tips into grips and tested how they behaved when shot with bows and javelins or simply by being rammed. This allowed us to test their ballistic characteristics, limits and effectiveness.

The small experimental points were used as arrowheads and fired with a bow or atlatl, and the resulting fractures were compared to the marks found on the archaeological material. Laure Metz, Slimak Ludovic, CC BY-ND

After our experimental replicas were photographed, we examined the resulting fractures and compared them to those found on the archaeological material. The breaks and scars indicate that they were distally cut – attached to the split end of the trunk. Their small size and particularly narrow width allow us to infer how they were fired: only high-speed bow propulsion was possible, our analysis found. The data from Mandrin Cave and the tests we carried out enrich our knowledge of these technologies in Europe and now allow us to push back the age of archery in Europe by more than 40,000 years.

Our research also sheds light on the weapons of these Neanderthal populations who were contemporaries of Nero’s modern humans. Neanderthals did not develop mechanically powered weapons and continued to use their traditional weapons based on the use of massive stone-tipped spears that were driven or thrown by hand and thus required close contact with the game they were hunting. Thus, the traditions and technologies acquired by these two populations were different, illustrating a remarkable objective technological advantage for modern populations during their expansion into Europe.

These discoveries not only profoundly change our knowledge of Neanderthals and modern humans in Western Europe, but also raise many questions about the structure and organization of these different populations on the continent. Technical choices are not solely the result of the cognitive abilities of different hominin populations, but may also depend on the weight of tradition in these Neanderthal and modern human populations.

Laure Metz is Archéologue et chercheuse en anthropologie at Aix-Marseille Université (AMU). Jason E. Louieis a professor of anthropology and assistant director of the Turkana Basin Institute at Stony Brook University (State University of New York). Ludovic Slimak is a permanent member of the CNRS at the Université Toulouse – Jean Jaurès. This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read on original article.

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