Patrick Chaplin: Darts History

Did Cavemen Play Darts?

Did Cavemen Play Darts?

by Dr John V. Day

CavenmenDid cavemen ever play darts? They did according to the satirical writer Martin Amis. In his novel LONDON FIELDS, Amis writes about a spoof handbook on darts which traces the history of darts "back to caveman times. The top caveman would be the man who brought back the meat every time, employing his darts skills."

Fact is Martin, you may have been joking, but you were bang on target. Darts -- or at least the practice of aiming missiles -- has an ancestry that goes back millions of years, back to the time when the earliest humans lived on the African savannah and hunted by throwing rocks at antelopes, pigs and gazelles.

But let us begin the story even further back, when our ancestors were still apes. We know that it's rare for chimps and other primates to throw with any accuracy. But chimps will throw stones wildly when hunting pigs, for instance, trying to scare and to isolate the young ones, and probably our distant ancestors hunted like this, millions of years ago. Throwing missiles wildly was an important first step in humans evolving to *aim* them -- a complex business for the brain and the arm -- to stun or kill animals, or to drive them over cliffs.

Our ancestors have been making tools in stone for more than two million years, and the ball-shaped stone tools found in east Africa that date to this period may be among the first stone missiles. Hunting became more important to our ancestors over time, especially for the early human called "Homo erectus", which appeared over one million years ago in east Africa and had evolved arm and hand bones that certainly look adapted for throwing missiles. Living on the African savannah, *Homo erectus* was forced to hunt a lot in order to survive, when other animals were eating its plant foods.

If you ate meat, the African savannah offered a walking larder that had far more food per square mile and far more calories than if you stuck to roots, berries and fruits. (Nuts are full of protein, it's true, but they are usually seasonal.)

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© Patrick Chaplin 2007