Neanderthals weren’t really the backward relatives of today’s modern humans, as is often assumed, and a new study has demonstrated their technologically advanced prowess in the creation of hunting spears which could easily kill animals at a distance.
As Phys.org has reported, the new study has analyzed how well replicas of the 300,000-year-old Schöningen spears Neanderthals used to hunt with hold up today, with experienced javelin throwers using the replicas of the ancient spears to see if they could hit specific long-distance targets.
Lead author Dr. Annemieke Milks, from the UCL Institute of Archaeology, explained that the new study is crucial to our understanding of Neanderthals because it has revealed that they actually had a wide variety of hunting skills at their disposal, as their special spears have shown.
“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.”
While previous research has suggested that Neanderthals would by and large sneak up on animals and attack them at close range, this new study has shown that quite the opposite is true, and that Neanderthals were capable of creating wooden spears that allowed them to actively target their prey and kill it at a distance.
The 10 Schöningen spears that were studied were first discovered in Schöningen, Germany between the years 1994 and 1999, and are to date the most ancient and well-preserved hunting weapons that have ever been unearthed in Europe.
In the new study, six javelin throwers were recruited to test whether or not they would be able to toss the spears and hit targets far away. As it was discovered, the javelin throwers were indeed able to hit a long-distance target set at 20 meters away, and with enough force that if the target had actually been a real animal, it would have been killed. What is perhaps most remarkable about this demonstration is that in the past, scientists had only thought it possible to use the spears at a distance of 10 meters, rather than the 20 in the demonstration.
Dr. Matt Pope, co-author of the new research, explained. “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.”
As Dr. Milks further noted, learning that Neanderthals were able to successfully use their well-crafted spears to kill prey at a distance only narrows what once seemed like a very wide gap between modern humans and Neanderthals.
“Our study shows that distance hunting was likely within the repertoire of hunting strategies of Neanderthals, and that behavioral flexibility closely mirrors that of our own species. This is yet further evidence narrowing the gap between Neanderthals and modern humans.”
The new study showing that Neanderthals were able to use their wooden spears to hunt at a distance has been published in Scientific Reports.