Cambridge Archaeological Journal


Thinking a Bow-and-arrow Set: Cognitive Implications of Middle Stone Age Bow and Stone-tipped Arrow Technology

Marlize Lombarda1 and Miriam Noël Haidlea2

a1 Department of Anthropology and Development Studies, University of Johannesburg, PO Box 524, Auckland Park, Johannesburg 2006, South Africa Email:

a2 Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Senckenberg Research Institute, Senckenberganlage 25, D-60325, Frankfurt am Main, Germany Email:


For various reasons increased effort has recently been made to detect the early use of mechanically-projected weaponry in the archaeological record, but little effort has yet been made to investigate explicitly what these tool sets could indicate about human cognitive evolution. Based on recent evidence for the use of bow-and-arrow technology during the Middle Stone Age in southern Africa by 64 kya, we use the method of generating and analysing cognigrams and effective chains to explore thought-and-action sequences associated with this technology. We show that, when isolated, neither the production of a simple bow, nor that of a stone-tipped arrow, can be reasonably interpreted to indicate tool behaviour that is cognitively more complex than the composite artefacts produced by Neanderthals or archaic modern Homo. On the other hand, as soon as a bow-and-arrow set is used as an effective group of tools, a novel cognitive development is expressed in technological symbiosis, i.e. the ability to conceptualize a set of separate, yet inter-dependent tools. Such complementary tool sets are able to unleash new properties of a tool, inconceivable without the active, simultaneous manipulation of another tool. Consequently, flexibility regarding decision-making and taking action is amplified. The archaeological evidence for such amplified conceptual and technological modularization implies a range of cognitive and behavioural complexity and flexibility that is basic to human behaviour today.

(Received May 19 2011)

(Accepted September 09 2011)

(Revised December 15 2011)

Marlize Lombard is associate professor in Archaeology, Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg. Her current research focus is on development, change and variability in Middle and Later Stone Age hunting and hafting technologies over the last 300,000 years in southern Africa and their role in recent human evolution and cognitive and behavioural complexity.

Miriam Noël Haidle is an archaeologist and palaeoanthropologist specialized on cognitive and cultural evolution. Her work focuses on comparative studies of object behaviour of animals and hominins. Currently, Haidle coordinates the research center ‘The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans’ of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities at the Senckenberg Research Institute and the University of Tübingen.