Evidence for the earliest use of bow-and-arrow weapons outside Africa were recently unearthed in the Fa-Hien Lena cave, Sri Lanka. The Fa-Hien Lena cave is home to a large number of tools and artifacts belonging to four distinct stages of history from 4000 – 48000 years ago, and is widely considered as an anthropological treasure trove.

This new study, lead by Michelle Langley, the lead study author and senior lecturer of forensics and archaeology at Griffith University, Australia, suggests evidence for the use of bow and arrow technology by ancient people in the South Asian island, around 48,000 years ago. These artifacts made of stones, bones, and teeth of animals are the oldest of its kind to be discovered outside Africa, where they date back to around 60000 years.

bow and arrow weapons
Source – M.C. Langley

Microscopic analyses of newly discovered 130 bone points show cracks and fractures on them, which are suggestive of damage caused by high power. This is an indication that these weapons were used as arrows, as published in Science Advances by Langley’s team. At the bottom of the bone points, signs of wear and tear such as notches were observed, which counts to the conclusion that these weapons were attached to thin shafts.

However, findings from sediment of Fa-Hien Lena cave are too short and heavy to serve as tips of blowgun darts. Therefore, the researchers suggest that relatively small preys such as monkeys and squirrels were the target of bow-and-arrow hunting in ancient Sri Lanka.

bow and arrow weapons
Source – M.C. Langley

Archeologist Marlize Lombard of University of Johannesburg holds judgement on the newly excavated Sri Lankan bone points until their internal damages are examined by high-resolution CT scans. Also, Archeologist Ryan Gabett of Queen’s University, Northern Ireland, stated that these Fa-Hien Lena cave findings are “suggestive but not definitive” evidence of bow-and-arrow hunting.

Alongside the above mentioned 130 bone projectiles made predominantly of monkey bones, several other tools suggestive of making clothing were also excavated deep within the rainforest, indicating highly sophisticated apparel-making in the period of humankind’s global migration. Not only that, but the earliest fossil appearance of Homo sapiens was also discovered from this site.

bow and arrow weapons
Source – M.C. Langley

The excavation of three beads made of seashells from this cave, which are said to exported from overseas, is symbolic, as they are said to be traded as a form of currency. Chunks of red, yellow, and silver pigment which were likely used to color and decorate bodies or objects were also excavated from the cave. Also, the presence of marine artifacts suggesting the existence of a well-established trade network linking inland forest dwellers to coastal populations, is remarkable.

Relics discovered from the Fa-Hien Lena cave in Sri Lanka provides a major contribution to create a detailed picture of the social and technological aspects of the earliest South Asian inhabitants, revealing their sophisticated methodologies of thriving in a very challenging environment.

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