Southern African arrow poison recipes, their ingredients and implications for Stone Age archaeology

J. Bradfield, L. Wadley, M. Lombard


Biochemical analyses of residues preserved on ethno-historical and archaeological artefacts increase our understanding of past indigenous knowledge systems. The interpretation of biochemical traces is, however, difficult. Problems that can hamper credible interpretations of ethno-historical or archaeological residues include incomplete knowledge about local natural products, limited published data about product applications, and overestimation of the abilities of the analytical techniques to make specific identifications. In an initial attempt to address some of the challenges, we discuss arrow poison as a case in point, and we provide complete, updated inventories of known southern African poison ingedients and recipes, suspected poisons, and the current state of knowledge about these toxins and their effects. We also suggest that discoveries of ancient arrow poison, and the technical steps involved in early toxicology, have the potential to indicate levels of human cognition.

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