Archaeologists have shown for the first time that neandertales they were able to manufacture weapons advanced enough to kill from a distance.
The study of University College London, published in 'Scientific Reports', examined the performance of replicas of the Schöningen spears 300,000 years old, the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records, to identify if javelin throwers could use them to hit a target from a distance.
Annemieke Milks (UCL Institute of Archeology), who led the study, said in a statement: "This study is important because it adds to the growing evidence that Neanderthals were technology experts and they had the ability to hunt hunting through a variety of strategies, not only with risky close encounters. "
The research shows that the wooden spears would have allowed the Neanderthals to use them as weapons and kill from a distance. It is a significant finding given that previous studies considered that Neanderthals could only hunt and kill their prey at close range.
The spears of Schöningen are a set of ten wooden spears from the Palaeolithic Age They were excavated between 1994 and 1999 in an open-cast lignite mine in Schöningen, Germany, along with approximately 16,000 animal bones.
The Schöningen spears represent the oldest hunting weapons and completely preserved from prehistoric Europe discovered until now. In addition to Schöningen, a spear fragment from Clacton-on-Sea, England, dating back 400,000 years, can be found in the Natural History Museum in London.
The study was conducted with six javelin athletes who were recruited to test whether the spears could be used to hit a target at a distance. The javelin athletes were chosen for the study because they had the ability to launch at high speed, equaling the capacity of a Neandertal hunter.
Owen O'Donnell, an alumnus of the Institute of Archeology of the UCL, made the replicas of the lances by hand with metal tools. They were made from Norwegian firs grown in Kent, United Kingdom. The surface was manipulated in the final stage with stone tools, creating a surface that replicated precisely that of a Pleistocene wooden spear. Two replicas were used, with a weight of 760 and 800 grams, which fit the ethnographic records of the wooden lances.
The javelin athletes proved that the goal could be reached up to 20 meters, and with a significant impact that would result in the death of a dam. This is twice the distance scientists thought the spears could reach, which shows that the Neanderthals had technological capabilities to hunt at a distance, as well as at close range.
The weight of the Schöningen spears previously led scientists to believe that they would have difficulty moving at a significant speed. However, the study shows that the weight balance and the speed at which athletes could throw them produces enough kinetic energy to hit and kill a target.
Matt Pope (Institute of Archeology of the UCL), coauthor of the article, said: "The appearance of weapons, the technology designed to kill, is a critical but poorly established threshold in human evolution.
"We have always relied on tools and expanded our capabilities through technical innovation." Understanding when we first developed remote killing capabilities is, therefore, a dark but important time in our history. "
Milks concluded: "Our study shows that remote hunting was probably within the repertoire of hunting strategies of the Neanderthals, and that the flexibility of behavior closely resembles that of our own species. This is additional evidence that reduces the gap between Neandertals and modern humans. "