Ancient Spears Shed New Light on Early Humans
LONDON (Reuter) - German scientists say they have found perfectly
preserved 400,000-year-old wooden spears, strong
evidence that early humans were more sophisticated hunters than anyone
The spears, the oldest wooden hunting weapons ever found, add to a
growing body of data indicating that our now-extinct
ancestors were not primitive, grunting cave-men but rather had an
Hartmut Thieme of the Institut fuer Denkmalpflege in Hannover scooped
out the spears and other tools ahead of a
high-speed excavator at an open-cast brown coal mine at Schoeningen, 60
miles east of Hannover.
Reporting in the science journal Nature Wednesday, he said his
discovery would force scientists to revise their opinions
about early humans.
"Found in association with stone tools and the butchered remains of
more than 10 horses, the spears strongly suggest that
systematic hunting, involving foresight, planning and the use of
appropriate technology, was part of the behavioural
repertoire of pre-modern hominids," Thieme wrote.
He said in an interview the spears would have been used by Homo
erectus, a human ancestor that lived between 1.6
million and 400,000 years ago.
Before this, the oldest spear found was about 125,000 years old and
many anthropologists were convinced that the
ancestors of humanity were mostly gatherers who only ate meat
opportunistically, scavenging carcasses or trapping small
Spears indicate they hunted big game for a living.
Robin Dennell, an archeologist at the University of Sheffield, said the
findings left him speechless.
"Wooden finds like these would be sensational if only 3,000 years old;
finds a hundred times older are almost
unimaginable," Dennell wrote in a commentary on Theime's paper.
"The spears have other exciting implications. First, the time and skill
needed to make them," Dennell added. Each took
careful advantage of the hardest wood in the 30-year-old spruce trees
from which they were made.
"We see considerable depth of planning, sophistication of design, and
patience in carving the wood, all of which have
been attributed only to modern humans."
The spears could also explain how people colonized northern Europe at
the end of the last Ice Age when the climate was
much colder than now. "The key to survival might have been efficient
hunting techniques," Dennell said.
Several recent discoveries have forced scientists to reassess their
opinions of pre-humans.
Last May, Jean-Jacques Hublin of the Musee de l'Homme in Paris said he
had found bone rings and other ornaments
usually believed to have been made by Cro-Magnons at a Neanderthal site
near Arcy-sur-Cure in central France.
He proposed that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons traded with one another,
which would show Neanderthals valued
aesthetic objects such as jewelry and art.
Cro-Magnons, the direct ancestors of modern humans, arrived in Europe
30,000 to 35,000 years ago. Anthropologists
argue about whether they descended from the Neanderthals or replaced
But several findings now indicate that Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals
lived closely together for thousands of years.
Last month archeologists in Ethiopia found stone tools 2.5 million
years old, pushing back the frontier of the first-known
use of tools by pre-humans by 200,000 years and showing early humans
were cleverer than anyone believed. They do not
know which species of early human made the tools.