Scientists rely on symbolically specific proxies, such as artistic expression, to document the origins of complex cognition.

Advanced technologies with elaborate chains of production are also proxies, as these often demand high-fidelity transmission and thus language.

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Here we describe a previously unrecognized advanced stone tool technology from Pinnacle Point Site 5–6 on the south coast of South Africa, originating approximately 71,000 years ago.

This technology is dominated by the production of small bladelets (microliths) primarily from heat-treated stone.

There is agreement that microlithic technology was used to create composite tool components as part of advanced projectile weapons K.

conducted the GIS analysis and photomosaic construction; C.

is the project director and an excavation permit co-holder; S.

contributed to the lithic analysis and conducted the morphometric analysis; Z.

studied the sedimentology and geology of the site; T. is an excavation permit co-holder and contributes to palaeoenvironmental studies; and J.

The authors speculate that weapons made using such bladelets may have been pivotal to the success of modern humans as they left Africa and encountered Neanderthals.

The technology provides strong evidence for advanced projectile weapons such as spearthrowers, or even bows and arrows.