Spears, already before humans?

The traditional theory used to be that Neanderthals, later than Homo heidelbergensis, did not have throwing spears, only spears for stabbing; and that Homo sapiens, the present human species, first used throwing spears. A more recent theory is that Homo heidelbergensis already had them about 400,000 years ago. And now …

From Student Science:

Human ancestors threw spears

Ancient spear tips suggest early humanlike species were throwing sharp spears long before people did

by Stephen Ornes

7:35am, December 12, 2013

The edge of this ancient obsidian stone point shows damage that suggests it was part of a spear thrown at animals from a short distance

Long before guns and arrows, spears were the tool of choice for ancient hunters. Topped with sharp, pointed rocks, spears at first made it possible to kill animals by stabbing them close-up. Later, spears were sturdy enough to be thrown at animals from a distance.

Until recently, the earliest known throwing spears dated back 80,000 years. But a recent discovery in East Africa now extends that type of spear hunting to a far earlier time, one that precedes humans. It suggests that at least 279,000 years ago, an earlier, humanlike species must have been hunting big game, like hippos and antelope.

Scientists dug up spear tips from that far back in time at a site in Ethiopia called Gademotta. Back then, during the Stone Age, tools were usually made from found materials like stone, wood or bone. Any early spear-throwers at that time weren’t people but early ancestors of humans called hominids. Hominids are a family of primates that includes humans and their extinct ancestors (known only from fossils).

The ancient hominid’s spears most likely were long wooden poles topped with sharp, hand-chipped (sharpened) tips made from glassy volcanic rock, explains Yonatan Sahle. He is an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has been studying the ancient spear tips made from this rock, known as obsidian. Given the tips’ age, his team concludes that prehuman species must have spear-hunted too. His team reported its findings Nov. 13 in the journalPLOS ONE.

The new finding challenges previously held ideas about the earliest throwers of stone-tipped spears, says John Shea. An archeologist at Stony Brook University in New York, he did not work on the new study. Previous studies had suggested ancient peoples started attaching stones to spears capable of stabbing animals close-up no earlier than 100,000 years ago.

The new find shows that more complex throwing spears were made at Gademotta long before then. They probably belonged to a species “out of which the human species evolved in eastern Africa,” Shea told Science News. Which hominid left behind the points? No one knows. Scientists have unearthed no prehuman fossils at the site.

Sahle and his coworkers studied 141 stone spear tips from Gademotta. Viewed under a microscope, 12 tips showed damage to their edges. Previous experiments have shown this type of damage comes from throwing stone-tipped spears into an animal that’s a short distance away. The scientists also found tiny marks near the base of the points, where they had been tied onto their wooden spear shafts.

The scientists estimated the age of the spear tips by where they were found. Seven were discovered beneath a layer of volcanic ash that is 279,000 years old. The rest were found buried in upper layers that were at least 105,000 years old.

Power Words

archaeology  The study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.

evolve  To change gradually over generations, or a long period of time. In living organisms, the evolution usually involves random changes to genes that will then be passed along to an individual’s offspring. These can lead to new traits, such as altered coloration, new susceptibility to disease or protection from it, or different shaped features (such as legs, antennae, toes or internal organs).

extinct  No longer in existence, as in a species or larger group of organisms.

hominid  A primate belonging to the family of animals that includes humans and their fossil ancestors.

obsidian  A hard, dark, glasslike volcanic rock.

primate  The order of mammals that includes humans, apes, monkeys and related animals (such as tarsiers, the Daubentonia and other lemurs).

Stone Age  A prehistoric period, lasting millions of years and ending thousands of years ago, when weapons and tools were made of stone or of materials such as bone, wood or horn.

Further Reading

B. Bower. “Human ancestors threw stone-tipped spears at prey.Science News. Nov. 19, 2013.

B. Bower. “Where do humans come from?Science News for Students. Nov. 5, 2013.

E. Sohn. “Ancient cave behavior.Science News for Students.

African, Middle East hunters against soaring bird poaching

This video says about itself:

Flyways by Paul Winter – Indiegogo Campaign

10 Nov 2013

Learn more here.

Migrating Birds Know No Borders” – Flyways is a musical journey inspired by the great bird migration from Africa through the Middle East to Eurasia. The album is intended to awaken awareness of this ancient and miraculous migration, and of the endangered indigenous cultures of the migration route.

Each spring, more than 500 million birds of 350 species follow the Great Rift Valley from southern Africa to Turkey, where they then diverge to Europe and Asia. This flyway is one of the most important bird migration corridors in the world. I first experienced the miracle of the migration when I flew in a motorized glider across Israel with the migrating storks as they soared on the thermal currents coming up from the Rift Valley below. From that unforgettable experience came the vision for this album: to create a musical chronicle of the birds’ long journey, incorporating music from each of the cultures over which they fly, and weaving the voices of the birds into the fabric of the music.

We began this musical odyssey seven years ago and to date we’ve gone to 16 countries of the flyway to learn of the musical traditions as well as people’s experience of the migrating birds. The Flyways double-CD album will feature this new ensemble that we call the Great Rift Valley Orchestra, comprised of indigenous musicians from these 16 countries, along with members of the Paul Winter Consort.

Migrating birds face many threats, including the destruction of key habitats along their routes of passage and, of course, climate change. And many of the indigenous traditions are undervalued and in decline.

The motto of the Flyways album is “migrating birds know no borders.” Beneath this overarching highway live millions of people of different races and religions. The flyway embraces all these cultures, and we feel that the timeless languages of birds and music have the potential to bring us together in common cause. The birds can guide us toward honoring the whole Earth as our home, and the music can awaken the universal heart of humanity. Read more about the project at www.flywaysmusic.org

From BirdLife:

Prominent hunters from Middle East and Africa sign declaration on responsible hunting

By Julien Jreissati, Thu, 05/12/2013 – 11:21

Hunters from Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Yemen and Ethiopia have signed a Regional Declaration on Responsible Hunting [1], at a ceremony organised by the BirdLife International and UNDP/GEF Migratory Soaring Birds (MSB) project.

Under the Patronage of H.E. Mr. Nazem El Khoury, Lebanese Minister of Environment, the ceremony celebrated the adoption of the “Code of Best Practices for Hunters and Hunting Groups for Responsible Hunting and the Full Protection of Migratory Soaring Birds”.

The ceremony was held on the 5th of December 2013 at the Coral Beach Hotel, Beirut, Lebanon. Guests included responsible hunters from the region, and observers from the Lebanese Higher Hunting Council, BirdLife International and BirdLife Partners from attending countries, the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, the European Federation of Associations for Hunting & Conservation (FACE), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The ceremony was part of a larger scheme that the MSB project discussed back in October 2011, during the MSB first regional hunting workshop in Beirut, when BirdLife Partners reviewed hunting practices in the region against the background of European experience. In Europe, BirdLife has signed a similar agreement with FACE.

Dr. Saleem Hamadeh, representative of H.E. Mr. Nazem El Khoury Lebanese Minister of Environment, presented the accomplishments of the Ministry of Environment in terms of birds conservation and the issuance of the necessary decrees for the implementation of the new hunting law. He reminded that migratory birds are protected under international laws and conventions. Finally he stated that “to achieve complete protection of migratory soaring birds we need regional collaboration for the organisation of responsible hunting”.

Signatories of the Responsible Hunting Declaration have committed to adopt the Code of Best Practices for Hunters and Hunting Groups for Responsible Hunting and the Full Protection of Migratory Soaring Birds as the founding principle of their hunting activities, and to implement measures to conserve migratory soaring birds and their habitats.

Many of the hunters present have expressed their aspiration to create national responsible hunting groups and societies with the Code of Best Practices for Responsible Hunting as their core value.

Mr. Osama Al Nouri, Regional MSB project coordinator, declared: “The MSB project aims to revive the hunter’s traditional sustainable hunting practices that do not threaten migratory soaring birds along the Rift Valley/Red Sea flyway within the scope of the Code of Conduct, to establish national and regional mature responsible hunting groups that are working closely with BirdLife partners as allies against indiscriminate practices, and ensure firm government buy-in through effective regulations and efficient implementation of national laws”.

For more information on the Code of Best Practices for Responsible Hunting kindly visit the MSB project website: www.migratorysoaringbirds.undp.birdlife.org or contact the BirdLife’s Regional Flyway Facility at rff@birdlife.org

[1] Signatories to the Responsible Hunting Declaration are:

  • WILLING to work towards the revival of the region’s tradition heritage in hunting and to improve their role in hunting control and management systems, and promote the concept of responsible hunting principles and MSB protection within their surroundings and contacts within their territories along the Rift Valley / Red Sea Flyway;
  • RESOLVING to enhance local and regional coordination and collaboration and to increase protection of Migratory Soaring Birds from threats arising from hunting; take necessary actions toward strict abstaining from Migratory Soaring Birds hunting (trapping, shooting, active taking and persecution) within their territories along the Rift Valley / Red Sea Flyway, most importantly at bottleneck sites during peak migration seasons;
  • ACCEPTING the adoption of the Code of Best Practices regarding responsible hunting of game species and protection of MSBs, and encouraging other fellow hunters in their clubs and associations to adopt it through dialogue and to join this declaration;
  • ACCEPTING to be a MSB envoy and role model to be followed by other fellow hunters in the area in order to pass the message to the broader community of hunters, including those who are not aware of the MSBs plight, considering themselves as leaders of change;
  • ENCOURAGING other parties concerned with MSBs to reduce threats induced by hunting and increase their efforts to the protection of MSBs along the flyway; and
  • WILLING to catalyze the formation of responsible hunting groups that will adopt the Code of Best Practices.

WCS plays significant role in largest-ever action in Jilin Province. December 2013: The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has congratulated authorities in China’s Jilin Province for the recent arrests of five poachers – the largest ever for the province: here.

February:  A new web tool that will help protect migratory soaring birds along the Rift Valley/Red Sea Flyway  has been launched by the BirdLife UNDP/GEF Migratory Soaring Birds project. The tool has been designed to provide developers, planning authorities and other interested stakeholders access to information on the distribution of soaring bird species along the Rift Valley/Red Sea flyway: here.

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Sad Syrian bald ibis news

This video is called National Geographic – ‘Extinct’ ibis found in Middle East – 2007.

From Wildlife Extra:

The end of a (sub)species? Syrian bald ibis population reduced to just 1 bird

Last Northern Bald ibis in Syria?

May 2013. Despite the current crisis in Syria, the Northern bald Ibis field team have continued to monitor the ibis, and have reported the sad news that only one Northern bald ibis has returned to the breeding site at Palmyra this spring. Unfortunately, there are no signs of any more birds so far returning from their migration to Ethiopia. The returning female, known as ‘Zenobia’ was last year paired to ‘Odeinat‘, the last male. Odeinat was fitted with a small satellite tag that stopped transmitting in southern Saudi Arabia in July 2012.

4 birds seen in Ethiopia

It has not been possible to search for Odeinat, as the last signals did not give an accurate location. Subsequently, a total of four birds was seen briefly in January this year by Yilma Abebe and Tariku Dagne (a visit supported by the Ethiopian Natural History Society and the Culture and Tourism Office of Ethiopia, with funds from RSPB) at the usual Ethiopian highland wintering site, but it now seems clear that only one of these birds has returned to the breeding area.

Rediscovered in 2002

This looks ominously like it may be the end for the relict eastern population of the species, having been rediscovered in 2002 when there were 3 breeding pairs. Despite huge efforts the colony dwindled to just one pair in the past two years and now it seems to just the one bird. This comes at a time when coordinated efforts are strengthening and indeed after the establishment of the new International Working Group was held in Jazan, Saudi Arabia in November 2012

Further release of captive birds?

Among the hopes for maintaining the eastern population are further releases from the former colony site at Birecik in SE Turkey where a semi-wild population persists. Meanwhile the only other wild population, which is also the subject of dedicated conservation efforts by Souss-Massa National Park and the Spanish BirdLife International Partner SEO /BirdLife, has remained relatively stable (some recent increases) over the past 20 years despite the growing development pressures, but still only comprises just over 100 breeding pairs at only two colonies in Morocco.