Microliths—small stone tools—are often interpreted as being part of composite tools, including projectile weapons, and essential to efficient hunting strategies of Homo sapiens. In Europe and Africa, the earliest appearance of these lithic toolkits are linked to hunting medium and large-sized animals in grassland or woodland settings, or as adaptations to risky environments during periods of climatic change. Yet the presence of small, quartz stone tools in Sri Lanka suggests the existence of more diverse ecological contexts for the development and use of these technologies by some of the earliest members of our species migrating out of Africa.
The paper, published in PLOS One and led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History alongside colleagues from Sri Lankan and other international institutions, reports microliths from the cave site of Fa-Hien Lena in the tropical evergreen rainforests of Sri Lanka, which have been dated to between 48,000 and 45,000 years ago. This is as early, or earlier, than the well-known "Upper Palaeolithic' technologies of Europe associated with Homo sapiens, and highlights that these sophisticated toolkits were a key part of our species' ecological flexibility as it colonized the Eurasian continent.