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We aren’t talking about lasers, nuclear weapons, and guns, but scientists have recently demonstrated that Neanderthals were sophisticated enough to create advanced weapons that allowed them to kill from a distance.
The UCL study, published in Scientific Reports, examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000-year-old Schöningen spears, the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records, to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target from distance.
Annemieke Milks (UCL Institute of Archeology), who led the study, explained in a statement: “This study is important because it adds to a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals were technologically savvy and had the ability to hunt big game through a variety of hunting strategies, not just risky close encounters. It contributes to revised views of Neanderthals as our clever and capable cousins.”
As noted by the researchers, the wooden spears allowed the human ancestors to use them as weapons and kill from a distance.
This discovery is of great importance as it contradicts earlier studies that suggest Neanderthals could only hunt and kill their prey from a close distance.
The so-called Schöningen spears are a set of ten wooden throwing spears that date back to the Palaeolithic Age. They were excavated between 1994 and 1999 in an open-cast lignite mine in Schöningen, Germany. Experts recovered around 16,000 animal bones together with the spears.
The Schöningen Spears are considered the oldest ‘completely preserved’ hunting weapons from prehistoric times in Europe.
However, there is a spear fragment from Clacton-on-Sea in England that is believed to date back to around 400,000 Years. This spear fragment is on display at the Natural History Museum in England.
The latest study that allowed experts to test out the efficiency of the ancient spears was conducted with the help of six javelin athletes who were recruited by scientists to help them test the ancient weapons, and see whether they could have been used by the ancients as weapons to hunt from a distance.
The spear replicas were made by Owen O’Donnell, an alumnus of UCL Institute of Archaeology who crafted the tools by hand using metal tools.
The study showed that the Pleistocene wooden spears could impact a target at a distance of up to twenty meters, with enough ‘power’ to kill the pray.
This result came as a surprise as it turned out to be double the distance that scientists previously thought spears could be thrown, showing that Neanderthals indeed had technological capabilities far more advanced than we’ve previously thought possible.
Dr. Matt Pope (UCL Institute of Archaeology), a co-author on the scientific paper concluded: “The emergence of weaponry – technology designed to kill – is a critical but poorly established threshold in human evolution.”
“We have forever relied on tools and have extended our capabilities through technical innovation. Understanding when we first developed the capabilities to kill at distance is, therefore, a dark, but important moment in our story.”