A photograph of the ancient tools discovered in Sri Lanka. Image Credit: Griffith University.

Sophisticated 45,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Found in Sri Lanka

As evidenced by the presence of bone points on bows and arrows, these small, sharp, and slender pieces were likely mounted on wooden shafts. Research suggests the objects were also used as projectiles for hunting prey.


A few years ago, in 2019, we reported about a discovery in Sri Lanka. Experts from the Max Planck Institute discovered evidence of “advanced ancient technology.” Experts had uncovered traces of microlith stone tools dating back around 45,000 years. The microliths were discovered in a Sri Lankan cave called Fa-Hien Lena, which dates back to 48,000 to 45,000 years ago. Their discovery turned out to be one of the oldest records of advanced technology in South Asia and in jungle environments around the world. Now, researchers have made another find, equally fascinating.

A 45,000-year-old hunter-gatherer culture used miniature stone tools and bone projectiles for hunting in Sri Lanka’s tropical rainforests for many millennia. A field study by the international team was done in a famous Sri Lankan cave called Kitulgala Beli-Lena. This cave is noted for its evidence of stone tools, bone artifacts, game animals, and human remains.  Between 45,000 and 8,000 years ago, the wet, forested rainforest zone was occupied by humans for long periods of time.  A combination of this new evidence and other cave records in the region indicates that the rainforest zone has been occupied repeatedly and consistently throughout history.


Important human occupation

In order to maintain long-term stability, people used to hunt tree- and ground-dwelling species. However, the also gathered freshwater mollusks and wild fruits in the rainforest.  According to this study, Sri Lanka has been an important human occupation area over the last 45,000 years. Through this study, we learn how humans adapted to rainforests among a wide range of ecosystems as they crossed Asia. Working in collaboration with Sri Lankan researchers and government authorities, Professor Petraglia assembled the international team for the research. Andrea Picin, the lead author of the study, explained how the rainforest occupants manufactured miniaturized stone tools.


Foragers collected stones from nearby streams and then placed them on an anvil and struck them with a hammerstone, according to Dr. Picin.  As evidenced by the presence of bone points on bows and arrows, these small, sharp, and slender pieces were likely mounted on wooden shafts. Research suggests the objects were also used as projectiles for hunting prey.  The tropics rainforests seem to be ecological barriers to human migration, according to Dr. Oshan Wedage from Sri Jayewardenepura University. It turns out, however, that our interdisciplinary archaeological research proves the contrary.

Challenging habitats

In contrast, these discoveries revealed our species, Homo sapiens, used challenging habitats to its advantage.   Despite rainforests having high biomass, it was difficult to exploit their food and resources. The study shows foragers knew how to extract fruits from high locations as well as deal with toxins from seeds.  The cave excavations in Sri Lanka have revealed details about human behavior over the long term, demonstrating that foragers survived and adapted without adversely impacting their ecosystem.

A sophisticated toolkit and special subsistence strategies were required to hunt prey high in the trees and in dense forests. Despite becoming proficient at gathering their dietary needs from the forest, these hunter-gatherers did not adversely affect the ecosystems in which they lived. Foragers shifted from cave to cave to avoid over-exploiting local resources and environments, according to the research.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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