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The million year prehistory of Cricket — the fast bowlers got fed

The researchers don’t say it, but this is obviously the beginnings of cricket. (David says “baseball”).

Archaeologists found lots of round rocks like this that are around 70,000 – 1.8 million years old in a cave in South Africa. They thought they might be tools, but now reckon that they were used as a weapon for hunting. With models (yeah, yeah) these are apparently the ideal size and weight to score maximum high speed damage at 20-30m distance given the mechanics of a human arm. So before spears, people probably throw rocks overhand to hunt. We are the only animals that can do this —  which might explain why a million years later people are still so enthused about cricket (and baseball).

Maybe the South Africans have an unfair advantage playing the game so much longer than everyone else. (David doesn’t think much of my theory, but cricket suddenly makes a lot more sense to me now).

Snippets from the press release:

Tool or weapon? Research throws light on stone artifacts’ use as ancient projectiles

Tool or weapon? Research throws light on stone artifacts’ use as ancient projectiles”Our study suggests that the throwing of stones played a key role in the evolution of hunting,” said Bingham, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and an author on the study. “We don’t think that throwing is the sole, or even primary, function of these spheroids, but these results show that this function is an option that warrants reconsidering as a potential use for this long-lived, multipurpose tool.”

… the researchers used computational models to analyze 55 ball-shaped stone objects from the South African site, finding that 81 percent of the stones were the optimal size, weight and shape for hitting such a target at a 25-meter distance. The stones are about the size of tennis balls but much heavier.

The team also simulated the projectile motions the spheroids would undergo if thrown by an expert, as well as estimated the probability of these projectiles causing damage to a medium-sized prey such as an impala.

Research on biomechanics and perception, particularly vision, shows that the human shoulder joint and perceptual abilities are uniquely specialized for throwing objects aimed at a particular target at a distance of 20 to 30 meters, Bingham said. The stones, which predate thrown spears, likely served as projectile weapons for hunting and defense since they were found to perform best as hunting weapons when thrown overhand, he added.

“Humans are the only animals — the only primates even — with that talent,” Bingham said. “We can throw something to hit something else — like a quarterback throwing to the running back all the way down the field. That’s how in large measure we survived the ice ages. The available food was largely on hoof, or it was ‘mega-fauna,’ such as a mammoth. You don’t want to get close to them.

“The ability to throw great distances was not a small thing,” Bingham said. “It was how we got lunch.”


Andrew D. Wilson, Qin Zhu, Lawrence Barham, Ian Stanistreet, Geoffrey P. Bingham. A Dynamical Analysis of the Suitability of Prehistoric Spheroids from the Cave of Hearths as Thrown ProjectilesScientific Reports, 2016; 6: 30614 DOI: 10.1038/srep30614

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