A haul of stone blades from a cave in South Africa suggests that early humans were already masters of complex technology more than 70,000 years ago .
The tiny blades — no more than about 3 centimetres long on average — were probably used as tips for throwable spears, or as spiky additions to club-like weapons, says Curtis Marean, an archaeologist at Arizona State University in Tempe who led the team that found the bladelets.
Twenty-seven such blades, called microliths by archaeologists, were found in layers of sand and soil dating as far back as 71,000 years ago and representing a timespan of about 11,000 years, showing how long humans were manufacturing the blades.
Clever crafters The find lends credence to the idea that early humans were capable of passing on their clever ideas to the next generation of artisans, creating complex technologies that endured over time. John Shea, a palaeoanthropologist at Stony Brook University in New York, says that it also suggests that “previous hypotheses that 'early' Homo sapiens differed from 'modern' ones in these respects are probably wrong”.