The world’s oldest use of poison

And the embargo breaks…scientists can now reveal that they have found the world’s oldest known use of poison.
Traces of ricin were discovered on a 20000-year-old wooden stick that was excavated at Border Cave in Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa.

The 20000-year-old poison. Scientists have found traces of ricin on this wooden stick, which was believed to be a poison applicator.

The wooden stick is believed to have been a poison applicator, used by ancient Bushman to carry and apply poison to arrows. The ricin was processed from castor beans.
Scientists found the traces of ricin through chemical analysis.
One of the researchers involved in the study, Dr Lucinda Backwell, a researcher, at the Bernard Price Institute for Paleontological Research at Wits University, said that poison applicators and arrows are still used by Bushman in some parts of Botswana and Namibia today.
However they don’t use ricin anymore, but rather a poison extracted from the larva of the Diamphidia beetle.
The poison is smeared on the arrow tip and when used the poison can take several days to work.

While the Bushman no longer use ricin, the poison is still a favourite amongst modern assassins.
The most famous assassination involving ricin was that of Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov. In 1978, a suspected member of the Bulgarian secret police fired a small pellet into Markov’s leg, as he crossed a bridge over the Thames river in London. The assassin used a weapon built into an umbrella, to shoot the pellet.

Four days later Markov was dead.
The paper titled Early evidence of San material culture represented by organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.



About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in human evolution, palaeontology, science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The world’s oldest use of poison

  1. Fascinating! It’s amazing that murder is such an old practice.Thanks for stopping by my blog.

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