Javelin-like stick shows early humans may have made good woodworkers

Our early human ancestors were quite a busy bunch, cooking brown crabs in caves in Portugal, mastering archery, and even learning how to weave. They may have been master carpenters. According to a study published on July 19 in the journal PLUS ONE, a 300,000-year-old wooden hunting weapon was scraped, seasoned and sanded before being used to kill animals. This new finding indicates that early human carpentry techniques were more sophisticated and developed than scientists believed. The creation of light weapons may have allowed group hunting of small and medium-sized animals.

[Related: Women have been skillful, purposeful hunters in most foraging societies.]

The two-and-a-half-foot-long stick was first discovered in Schöningen, Germany, in 1994, along with other tools including throwing spears, stabbing spears, and a second throwing stick of similar size. This new study used some of the advances in imaging techniques that have emerged in the nearly three decades since the device’s discovery—micro-CT scanning, 3D models, and 3D microscopy—to take a closer look.

“Our study confirms that this tool is the oldest known ‘throwing stick’, which is a rotary thrown weapon, similar to a boomerang,” says co-author and University of Reading Paleolithic archaeologist Annemieke Milks. pop science. “The slight curve of the tool, as well as its shape to have more mass towards the middle, rather than in the middle, would have helped it spin. We believe it could have been launched at distances of up to 30 meters. [98 feet].”

The stick was probably used to hunt medium-sized game such as red deer and roe deer, and potentially smaller, faster game including birds and hares. It would probably have been thrown like a modern javelin. While lightweight, the high speeds at which these weapons can be thrown could have resulted in some deadly high-energy impacts.

The carefully shaped tips, fine surface, and polish of the handling also suggested that it was part of personal equipment that was used repeatedly, rather than a hastily made tool that was thrown away. 3D microscopy and micro-CT scanning helped the team identify all the construction steps, including how the bark was removed, how the colon was formed, and how the wood was removed to force a more streamlined weapon.

Schöningen’s double-ended wooden throwing stick. CREDIT: Volker Minkus.

“We were very excited to see how many steps and how detailed the woodworking is on this tool. We could also see that they sanded down the surface to give it a fine finish, and that a bit of polishing shows that they used this tool for a long time. This was a tool that was beautifully designed and used for some time,” says Milks.

[Related: Archery may have helped humans gain leverage over Neanderthals.]

These early hunting weapons can also be considered tools that entire communities would use. Footprints belonging to both adults and children have been discovered at Schöningen, indicating that children were present at this site. At the time, hunting was key to survival, some three- or four-year-olds were learning to throw and use weapons, and girls and women were probably not excluded from learning these crucial skills.

“In some societies, they start hunting in groups as children, without any adults, and then, in their teens, they start hunting larger game,” says Milks. “Although we don’t know for sure who threw this weapon, smaller tools like this throwing stick may have been particularly suitable for children to learn on.”

The stick is currently on display at the Forschungsmuseum Schöningen.

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