Ancient humans made deadly wooden weapons 300,000 years ago, study finds: Science alert

Powerful new imaging techniques upend the Stone Age stereotype and reveal that humans were already crafting complex hunting weapons from wood as early as 300,000 years ago.

Archaeologists ago Suspicious Humans have been using wooden tools at least as long as stone tools, but due to the extremely brittle nature of wood, most evidence has rotted away.

Now, using 3D microscopy and micro-CT scanners to examine 187 wooden artifacts from Schöningen in Germany, archaeologist Dirk Leder from the Lower Saxony State Office of Cultural Heritage and colleagues have confirmed suspicions.

„Wood was an important raw material for human evolution, but only in Schöningen has it survived. Stone Age period in such great quality,” Explains University of Göttingen archaeologist Thomas Derberger.

Among these wooden artefacts, the largest Pleistocene (2.58 to 11,700 years ago) at least 10 spears, seven throwing sticks and 35 domestic tools. They are all carved from woods known to be flexible and hard, including spruce, pine and larch.

The tools clearly showed signs of chipping techniques and carving, scraping and abrasion used by modern humans.

„It was a revelation to us how the wooden tools were so skillfully made.” exclaims Paleontologist Annemic Milks University of Reading.

Woodworking to the found sophistication is a slow and multi-step process that requires a great deal of patience and forethought. What’s more, the age of the tools coincides with the period when Neanderthals dominated Europe over other early human species.

Woodworking techniques used for round wood artefacts (top) and split wood artefacts (bottom). (Leder et al., PNAS2024)

The site at Schöningen contains evidence of up to 25 butchered animals, mostly horses.

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„These pre-A wise man had sophisticated tools and weapons for hunting big game,” Derberger said Franz Litz The New York Times. „Not only did they communicate together to bring down prey, but they were sophisticated enough to organize butchering and roasting.”

Researchers argue that these powerful hunting skills are much older than the wooden artifacts found at Schöningen. These abilities would have ensured that early humans had access to high-quality food sources for generations, providing the potential for increased brain development and associated cognitive abilities.

„Likewise, [hunting] „During the Pleistocene, stable populations in less favored regions of Europe would have contributed to human range expansion around the world,” Leider and team. Write on their paper.

Incredibly, the researchers also found evidence of recycling. Broken or blunt tools were reworked for new purposes.

„This study provides unique insights into Pleistocene woodworking techniques,” say the researchers. To conclude.

„Schöningen’s wooden hunting weapons exemplify the interplay of technological complexity, human behavior, and human evolution.”

Their study was published PNAS.

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