Europe’s first humans hunted with bows and arrows

A 54,000-year-old cave site in southern France holds hundreds of tiny stone points, which researchers say closely resemble other known arrowheads — including replicas that they tested on dead goats.

The discovery, reported on 22 February in Science Advances, suggests that the first Homo sapiens to reach Europe hunted with bows and arrows. But it also raises the question of why Neanderthals — which occupied the Grotte Mandrin rock shelter in the Rhône Valley before and after Homo sapiens — never adopted these superior weapons.

Last year, researchers excavating Grotte Mandrin claimed that the site held the earliest known evidence of Homo sapiens in Europe2. In one of the cave’s archaeological levels, known as layer E, researchers co-led by cultural anthropologist Ludovic Slimak at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaurès in France identified a child’s tooth and thousands of stone tools. They concluded that the child had been a Homo sapiens.

Among the tools were hundreds of tiny points, many of which were as small as 1 centimetre wide, weighed only a few grams and were nearly identical in shape and size. The smallest points were similar to other arrowheads made by ancient and modern humans, and some contained similar fractures and other damage at their tips, which could have been created by high-velocity impact.