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Hunting for clues

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A new way to identify ancient residues

A team of archaeologists and organic chemists from Wits, UP and UJ has found a way to detect toxic plant ingredients on archaeological artefacts such as weapons.

Organic compounds degrade over time, so these ancient residues can be difficult to identify. They may also be present in only tiny quantities. But the new method of identification may allow us to understand more about human behaviour such as hunting in the distant past.

It is not known when people started using poisons in hunting, but one example has been found of poison from castor beans adhering to a 24 000-year-old applicator. The artefact was found at Border Cave in South Africa.

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Justin Bradfield (BA 2008, BA Hons 2009, MSc 2011), of Wits’ Evolutionary Studies Institute, was on the research team.

(Source: The Conversation)

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