A new study suggests that humans were already shooting poisoned arrows to defend themselves or hunt 72,000 years ago.
The oldest evidence of poison use by humans was traces of ricin detected on 24,000-year-old wooden applicators found in Border Cave, South Africa.
However, archaeologists have long suspected that this hunting technique is much older and, now, new evidence suggests that humans have been shooting poisoned arrows for the past 72,000 years.
In a new study by the University of Johannesburg, published last month in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, archaeologist Marlize Lombard examined the properties of known poisoned arrows, comparing them with others that had no poison, by analyzing 128 bone pointed arrows.
The archaeologist decided to focus her research on bone-tipped arrows because many previous works focused only on stone-tipped arrows, as they are the ones that are best preserved. Lombard also evaluated 306 Late Stone Age bone-tipped arrows.
Six bone-tipped arrows found in Blombos Cave, also in South Africa, dated to between 72,000 and 80,000 ago. Three of these have properties consistent with poisoned arrowheads.
Another of the bone points found in the caves of the Klasies River, South Africa, more than 60 thousand years old, also showed microcracks, which indicate that it was used as an arrow. This one had a black residue that Lombard and other scientists suspect was poison, glue, or both.