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Early humans were weapon woodwork masters, study finds


Newswise — A 300,000-year-old hunting weapon has shone a new light on early humans as woodworking masters, according to a new study.

A recent state-of-the-art analysis conducted on a double-pointed wooden throwing stick, discovered in Schöningen, Germany, three decades ago, has unveiled fascinating insights. The research reveals that the throwing stick was skillfully scraped, seasoned, and sanded before its use in hunting and killing animals. These findings suggest that early humans possessed woodworking techniques that were far more advanced and sophisticated than previously believed. This discovery sheds new light on the capabilities and ingenuity of our ancient ancestors, showcasing their mastery of crafting tools for specific purposes and expanding our understanding of early human development.

The research findings, published in PLOS ONE on Wednesday, 19 July, also propose that the development of lightweight weapons, such as the double-pointed wooden throwing stick, might have facilitated group hunts of medium and small animals. The use of these throwing sticks as hunting aids could have engaged the entire community, including children, in the hunting process. This discovery adds a new dimension to our understanding of early human societies, suggesting that collaborative hunting practices involving specialized tools were integral to their survival and success in obtaining food resources. The involvement of different age groups in such hunting activities may have played a crucial role in early human communities’ cohesion and resilience.

Dr. Annemieke Milks, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology, served as the lead researcher in this study. She highlights the groundbreaking nature of findings related to wooden tools, as they have significantly transformed our comprehension of early human behaviors. The discoveries indicate that these ancient humans possessed impressive abilities, including the capacity for advanced planning, a deep understanding of wood properties, and a wide range of sophisticated woodworking skills that continue to be relevant even in modern times. This revelation underscores the ingenuity and resourcefulness of our ancestors, revealing a level of craftsmanship and knowledge that was previously underestimated.

The lightweight nature of these throwing sticks suggests that they might have been easier to launch compared to heavier spears. This characteristic would have allowed the entire community, including individuals of various age groups, to participate in the hunting activities. Notably, these throwing sticks could have been utilized by children while learning how to throw and engage in hunting practices. The accessibility and usability of these tools may have fostered a cooperative hunting environment, where individuals of different skill levels and ages could contribute to the group’s hunting efforts, enhancing their hunting success and promoting knowledge transfer within the community.

Dirk Leder, a co-author of the study, highlighted the meticulous woodworking process involved in crafting the throwing stick used by the Schöningen humans. The tool was made from a spruce branch, carefully shaped to achieve an aerodynamic and ergonomic design. The woodcrafting process included several precise steps, such as cutting and removing the bark, carving the wood into an aerodynamic shape, further refining the surface through scraping, seasoning the wood to prevent cracking and warping, and finally, sanding it to facilitate easier handling. The level of craftsmanship exhibited in creating this tool showcases the early humans’ advanced woodworking skills and their ability to create sophisticated and purposeful tools for specific tasks like hunting.

High-impact weapon

Found in 1994, the 77cm-long stick is one of several different tools discovered in Schöningen, which includes throwing spears, thrusting spears and a second similarly sized throwing stick.

In this new study, an in-depth analysis of the double-pointed throwing stick reveals its probable use by early humans for hunting medium-sized game such as red and roe deer. Additionally, it may have been effective in pursuing fast and elusive prey like hares and birds. Instead of being thrown overhead like a modern javelin, these sticks were likely thrown rotationally, similar to boomerangs. This technique might have allowed early humans to achieve impressive distances of up to 30 meters. Despite their lightweight nature, these throwing sticks could deliver deadly high-energy impacts due to the high velocities at which they were launched.

The fine surface, carefully shaped points and polish from handling suggest this was a piece of personal kit with repeated use, rather than a quickly made tool that was carelessly discarded.

Thomas Terberger, the principal investigator, expressed his enthusiasm for the systematic analysis of the wooden finds from the Schöningen site, which was funded by the German Research Foundation. He believes that this research has already yielded valuable new insights, and he anticipates that more exciting information regarding these early wooden weapons will be forthcoming in the near future.

The well-preserved stick is on display at the Forschungsmuseum in Schöningen.


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