Though Africa is commonly accepted as the birthplace of modern man, researchers placed the birth of modern civilization in Europe at roughly 40,000 years ago. At around that time, stone tools began appearing in civilizations throughout Europe, heralding what researchers almost interchangeably call the Late Stone Age or the Upper Paleolithic Period.

But in Africa, though researchers have been able to find artifacts from 80,000 years ago, researchers have been unable to find anything between then and about 20,000 years ago. Actually, researchers knew nothing about life in the area between 40,000 and 20,000 years ago. With nothing to connect the two eras, researchers supposed that modern civilization began in Africa 20,000 years ago – 20,000 years after it began in Europe.

But new findings have caused archeologists to revise that theory. Paola Villa and her colleagues from the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History in Boulder brought dating equipment to the Border Cave in South Africa. They found that Middle Stone Age technology had been updated – from stone spear points to bows and bone arrows.

Francesco d'Errico from France's University of Bordeaux came to a similar conclusion after finding organic evidence, also from South Africa. He and his team found ornamental beads, digging sticks, and beeswax, which was used to attach tools to handles, and is the earliest recorded use of the substance as an adhesive.

Researchers had previously thought that similar objects were used by present-day South Africa's San culture, which emerged 20,000 years ago.

Researchers also found a thin wooden stick etched with perpendicular scratches. Chemical analysis of the tool indicated usage of ricinocleic acid, a natural poison found in castor beans, and researchers believe that it was used to apply poison to arrows and spears. The stick has been dated at 20,000 years old, and is the earliest use of such technology.

Experts believe that the tools did not arrive from different parts of Africa, but rather originated in that area. The markings of the tools are consistent with those from earlier time periods. In fact, researchers hypothesize that the tools may have traveled up through the continent and arrived in Europe, but most believe that the tools in both areas evolved independently. The time period is the same as the one in which modern humans traveled to Europe and encountered Neanderthals for the first time.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the United States of America.