Homo heidelbergensis used wooden weapons to hunt waterbirds and horses

Liège/Tübingen, 20.04.2020

Ice Age hunters in northern Europe were highly skilled and used a wide range of effective weapons. A wooden throwing stick found and studied by the teams of the University of Tübingen (Germany), the University of Liège (Belgium) and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment in Schöningen, Lower Saxony (Germany), highlights the complexity of early hunting. The discovery is presented in a new paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Research at Schöningen demonstrates that already 300,000 years ago Homo heidelbergensis used a combination of throwing sticks, spears and thrusting lances. Prof. Nicholas Conard and Dr. Jordi Serangeli, who direct the excavation attribute the exceptional discovery to the outstanding preservation of wooden artifacts in the water saturated lakeside sediments in Schöningen.

The throwing stick was recovered in layer 13 II-4, which in the 1990s yielded examples of throwing spears, a thrusting lance and additional wooden tools of unknown function. Like almost all of these finds, the new artifact was carefully carved from spruce wood, as confirmed by Dr. Gerlinda Bigga, who studies the structure of the wood used for tools.

The throwing stick is 64.5 cm long, 2.9 cm in diameter and weighs 264 grams. The cross-section is asymmetrical with a round and a flatter side.

Use-wear analysis conducted by Dr. Veerle Rots from the TraceoLab research group of the University of Liège shows how the maker of the throwing stick used stone tools to cut the branches flush and then to smooth the surface of the artifact. The artifact preserves impact fractures and damage consistent with that found on ethnographic and experimental examples of throwing sticks.

The chances of finding Paleolithic artifacts made of wood are normally zero, but Schöningen, with its exceptional preservation, has yielded by far the largest and most important record wooden tools and hunting equipment from the Paleolithic.

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