The stone blades would have allowed our ancestors to attack Neanderthals – and other humans – from a greater distance and with more devastating effect. Photograph: Simon Oestmo/Nature
Early humans wandered out of Africa armed with darts and arrows that made them formidable hunters and deadly competitors for any Neanderthals that stood in their way.
The revised version of the human story follows the discovery in South Africa of a haul of small stone blades or "bladelets" that formed lethal weapon tips, either for arrows fired from bows, or spears propelled from wooden throwers called atlatls.
Researchers uncovered more than 70 sharp stone tips measuring no more than 5cm long while excavating an eroded cliff face that overlooks the ocean at a site called Pinnacle Point on the south coast.
The development of the technology allowed early humans to attack wild animals or human foes from a greater distance and with more devastating effect. "People who possess light armaments that can be thrown long distances have immediate advantages in hunting prey and killing competitors," Curtis Marean, project director at Arizona State University, told the Guardian.