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Early Archers Were in Sri Lanka, Not Europe

Step aside, Robin, and tell your Merry Men to put their bows down for a minute … the team from Sri Lanka has arrived and they have far more experience than you or any other European entrants in history’s archery tournament. That’s the assessment of a new study which reveals the earliest evidence of bows and arrows comes not from the Sherwood Forests of Europe but from the tropical rain forests on the South Asia island of Sri Lanka. Did these early archers fight for their oppressed countrymen against the evil sheriff of Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte?

Robin Hood statue

“As one of the oldest H. sapiens rainforest sites outside of Africa, this exceptional assemblage provides the first detailed insights into how our species met the extreme adaptive challenges that were encountered in Asia during global expansion.”

With more sophisticated weaponry, of course. Science Alert announced the publication of this new study in the journal Science Advances. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Griffith University in Australia and Sri Lanka’s Department of Archaeology were searching Sri Lanka for clues as to how early humans managed to settle down and live in this dense rainforest long before moving on through South Asia. While bows and stone-tipped arrows first appeared in South Africa about 70,000 years ago, they didn’t show up in Europe (Germany) until 18,000 years ago. Humans were living in Sri Lanka long before that. How did they survive when all of the best foods – monkeys, squirrels, other tree-dwelling creatures, offshore fish – were fast-moving and far away?

“Clear evidence for use on the preserved bone arrowheads shows that they were likely used for hunting difficult-to-catch rainforest prey.”

Michelle Langley of Griffith University, the lead author and an expert in the study of microscopic traces of tool use and the creation of symbolic material culture in the Pleistocene age, studied bones and stones from a cave in Fa-Hien Lena deep in the heart of the Wet Zone forests – one of the most important archeological sites on the island. She found fractures on the points indicating damage due to hard impacts. The fractures were similar to those found in Africa and not as deep as those made from blowgun darts, which sealed the deal that they were arrowheads and arrows from 48,000 years ago.

The pointed implements appear to have been used on woven fabrics as well, leading the researchers to conclude that these early humans made clothing that protected them from mosquitoes while cutting through the rainforest for better food than was available in the grasslands. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion is that this discovery further supports the idea that clusters of early humans around the world were developing similar skills independently of each other, as co-author Nicole Boivin explains:

“Humans at this time show extraordinary resourcefulness and the ability to exploit a range of new environments. These skills enabled them to colonize nearly all of the planet’s continents by about 10,000 years ago, setting us clearly on the path to being the global species we are today.”

The reason for global expansion?

More evidence that the Europeans were not unique nor the most advanced of early humans. Did these early Sri Lankans have their own sweaty, mosquito-bitten Robin Hood who robbed monkey meat from the rich and gave it to the poor? More importantly, who will play him in the movie?


Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.
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