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The earliest evidence for mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe



Microscopic analysis of backed lithic pieces from the Uluzzian technocomplex (45–40 thousand yr ago) at Grotta del Cavallo (southern Italy) reveals their use as mechanically delivered projectile weapons, attributed to anatomically modern humans. Use-wear and residue analyses indicate that the lithics were hunting armatures hafted with complex adhesives, while experimental and ethnographic comparisons support their use as projectiles. The use of projectiles conferred a hunting strategy with a higher impact energy and a potential subsistence advantage over other populations and species.

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Fig. 1: Locations of the Uluzzian findings in Italy and on the Balkan Peninsula.
Fig. 2: Backed pieces from Grotta del Cavallo showing DIFs and MLITs, and sampling of residues on backed pieces by FTIR spectroscopy and its results.

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The authors declare that data supporting the findings of this study are available in the paper and the Supplementary Information.


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We thank Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Brindisi, Lecce e Taranto and especially M. Piccarreta and S. Strafella for supporting our research at Grotta del Cavallo. Special thanks are due to A. P. di Cesnola and P. Gambassini for giving us the opportunity to revisit the Uluzzian materials from their excavations. We thank L. Sarti for providing the base planimetry of Grotta del Cavallo. We also acknowledge Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste for providing synchrotron radiation facilities (proposal no. 20180262) and the Weizmann Institute of Science for providing the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science Infrared Standards Library. Finally, we thank I. Corsi for providing contacts between the University of Siena and Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste. This research was supported by a grant from the European Research Council (ERC-724046, SUCCESS; K.S. was supported by MEXT/JSPS KAKENHI grant numbers JP17H06381, 4903 and 15H05384.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.M. and K.S. conceived and organized the project. S.B. obtained funding and directed the project. K.S. undertook the use-wear analysis with S.A. as well as the morphometric analysis. C.S., G.B. and L.V. performed the residue analysis. D.A. conducted the experiment to produce Uluzzian backed pieces. I.F., M.G. and A.T. provided data on the exploitation of feathers. F.B., J.C. and P.B. presented the results of the zooarchaeological analysis. K.S., C.S., V.S., S.R. and I.F. made the figures and illustrations. D.A., F.B., A.R. and A.M. provided permits for the analysis of the archaeological samples and expertise on the site sequences and materials. K.S., C.S., A.R., A.M. and S.B. wrote the manuscript with contributions from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Katsuhiro Sano.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–10, Tables 1–4, notes and references.

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Sano, K., Arrighi, S., Stani, C. et al. The earliest evidence for mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1409–1414 (2019).

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