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Neanderthals had advanced hunting technology



  One of the Schoeninger spears 1997.
One of the Schoeningen spears 1997. P. Pfarr NLD / CC BY-SA 3.0 DE

Forty thousand years after the disappearance the Neanderthals remained largely alive like the butts our jokes. They know how to do it: they are unintelligent, lethargic, incompetent ̵

1; an embarrassing chapter in our evolutionary history. Right?

Not really. Research Results Published Today Scientific Reports provide further evidence that our ancestors were far more advanced than we had thought – even when it comes to violence, an area where humanity is a clear, albeit unfortunate, authority can claim.

University College London archaeologists (UCL) have shown that the 300,000-year-old "Schoeninger Spears" – the oldest surviving hunting weapons ever found in Europe – are used for hunting prey remotely rather than remotely could be short range. When the spears were dug up between 1994 and 1999 in a lignite mine in Schöningen (Germany), they helped to "stave off" the perception that Neanderthals were not hunters, says Annemieke Milks, the lead author of the new study. Nevertheless, Milks noted during her final examinations that there was a lack of data on hand-thrown spears from that time. Researchers like them had to understand basic things about how these weapons worked. That's exactly what she did with the Schoeninger spears.

  A javelin thrower with a replica spit.
A javelin thrower with a replica spear. Scientific Reports and Annemieke Milks / CC BY 4.0

Using Norwegian spruce wood grown in Kent, England, the UCL Institute of Archeology alum Owen O & M Donnell built by hand Replicas of the spears weighing 760 and 800 grams. To ensure that the spears not only met the historical specifications but were also treated with the proper technique, the team assigned six spear athletes to throw the spears at a high speed of a hunter. The javelin throwers could hit targets up to 20 meters away and have enough power to kill the prey. Before the experiment, the scientists had estimated that the spears could only be thrown half as far. After all, they are relatively strong – NFL footballs weigh about 400 grams.

The results show the technological sophistication of Neanderthals and an important, if macabre, pathway to which they influenced human civilization. "Understanding when we first developed the skills to kill remotely," co-author Matt Pope said in a press release, "is a dark but important moment in our history." However, these skills are only part of the rather complex Neanderthal puzzle. Between the last 10 and 15 years, according to Milks, researchers had to radically reconsider the Neanderthals after evidence had emerged that they were exploring the underground, creating art, symbolizing and making other advanced stone tools. But perhaps it should not have been so surprising: The Neanderthals had been traveling for over 300,000 years. "To understand them as a human-like species," says Milks, "helps us to understand their longevity."

Milks hopes that this study can provide a basis for comparing early spears with later projectiles and a larger specimen. The size of the bowlers can illustrate the importance of variables such as skill and height for dealing with them. Until then, we'll give the Neanderthals a break already.


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