Mankind's oldest completely preserved hunting weapons are getting a big research grant.
The Schöningen spears are a set of eight wooden throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age that were excavated between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine in Schöningen, Helmstedt district, Germany. Assessed as being between 380,000 and 400,000 years old, they represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons of prehistoric Europe yet discovered. They predate both human beings and neanderthals, and are associated with Homo heidelbergensis.
Thanks to a nearly $570,000 grant from the German Research Foundation, researchers at Germany's University of Göttingen and the Lower Saxony State Service for Cultural Heritage to examine these spears using state-of-the-art imaging techniques. Researchers hope to learn how exactly our ancestors managed to build these weapons, as well as their context within the archaeological site. They also hope to reconstruct them exactly as they were.
The excavation site
"The discovery of the oldest, remarkably well preserved wooden weapons in the Schöningen open-cast, brown coal mine dates back to excavations carried out by the Lower Saxony State Office for Heritage in the 1990s," writes the University of Göttingen in a press release. "Several spears and a lance revolutionized scientific understanding of the technical and intellectual abilities of early hominins in Europe. It is essential to investigate the condition in which the wood arrived at the site and which processing steps were carried out there."
Seven of the spears are made from straight spruce stems and one is made from pine. They vary in length from around six feet to a little less than seven and a half feet. Researchers say they've been worked very thoroughly - likely evidence of advanced technological skills and a workmanlike tradition. Wood
They throw similarly to modern tournament javelins. Wood choice is probably determined by climate. At the end of the interglacial period, conifer trees grew near the site the spears were found.
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