In the course of excavations within a cave in southern France, archaeologists claim to have unearthed proof of the earliest utilization of bows and arrows in Europe.
Contrary to previous assumptions, Homo sapiens residing in the Rhône Valley cave approximately 54,000 years ago likely employed archery for hunting bison, horses, or deer.
The extensive collection of small stone points discovered at the site closely resembles known arrowheads, totaling over 300 examples crafted in the Neronian style.
This finding is considered pivotal as it suggests that the cave’s inhabitants, the earliest Homo sapiens in the region, coexisted with the Neanderthals.
The cave yielded arrowheads ranging from 10 to 60 millimeters, with approximately 200 displaying impact and damage patterns indicative of thrusting, throwing, or mechanical propulsion.
Laure Metz, an archaeologist from Aix-Marseille Université, and her team conducted experiments with replica weapons to comprehend the practical application of these arrowheads.
The researchers propose that the advanced projectile weaponry, specifically the bow and arrow, might have conferred an advantage to early Europeans over Neanderthals, who vanished around 40,000 years ago.
While some of the larger points were suitable for spears or darts, the researchers argue that only a bow and arrow could generate sufficient force to effectively deploy the smallest points for hunting.
Metz contends that, despite their diminutive size, these arrowheads were likely used to hunt relatively large animals such as horses, deer, or bison, whose remains were found in the cave. However, she does not rule out the possibility that these tiny points may have been employed as weapons against other humans.
Marlize Lombard, from the University of Johannesburg, who was not involved in the study, concurs, stating that the Mandrin arrowheads “could hardly have been used in any other way than to tip arrows.”
This discovery challenges the previous earliest evidence of bow-and-arrow use in Europe, which was derived from wooden bows and arrow shafts preserved in peat bogs in Northern Europe dating back 12,000 years.
The study presenting these findings was published in the journal Science Advances.