A view of the sea and a staircase leading up to Cave 13B at Pinnacle Point in South Africa where Arizona State University paleoanthropologist Curtis Marean and an international team of researchers found ochre, bladelets and evidence of shellfish – findings that reveal the earliest dated evidence of modern humans. REUTERS/The Mossel Bay Archaeology Project/Handout (SOUTH AFRICA). EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO ARCHIVES. NO SALES.

London - Stone age humans invented the lethal technology of spears and arrows many thousands of years earlier than previously thought, according to a discovery by archaeologists - which probably allowed them to migrate out of Africa and successfully colonise other parts of the world.

Archaeologists believe small stone blades dating to 71,000 years ago were used as the sharp tips for arrows or spears and were made by a technique of heating stone and shaping cutting edges.

The “bladelets” were excavated from a prehistoric site called Pinnacle Point on the southern coast of South Africa and are between 6,000 and 11,000 years older than the previous oldest known samples of spear and arrow blades, scientists said.

According to a study in Nature, led by Dr Curtis Marean of Arizona State University, these were the key weapons that allowed anatomically modern Homo sapiens to migrate out of Africa and colonise Europe, where the Neanderthals lived. Dr Marean wrote: “When Africans left Africa and entered Neanderthal territory they had projectiles with greater killing reach and these early moderns probably also had higher levels of hyper-cooperative behaviour.

“These two traits were a knockout punch. Combine them, as modern humans did and still do, and no prey or competitor is safe. This probably laid the foundation for the expansion out of Africa of modern humans and the extinction of many prey as well as our sister species such as Neanderthals.” - The Independent