December 5, 2023

New analysis of a tool dating back 300,000 years suggests that our ancestors were skilled woodworkers who crafted useful hunting weapons with comfort, efficiency and longevity in mind.

A 77 cm long (30 in) double-ended wooden throwing stick, originally discovered in Shöningen, Germany in 1994, has been newly analyzed using micro-CT scanning, 3D microscopy, infrared spectroscopy and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. The remarkable result has the University of Reading team excited that the technique provides insight beyond conventional techniques. previous analysis tools in the collection.

“The discovery of wooden tools has revolutionized our understanding of early human behaviour,” said study leader Annemieke Milks, from the Department of Archeology at the University of Reading. “Amazingly, these early humans demonstrated the ability to plan ahead, a deep knowledge of the properties of wood, and many of the sophisticated carpentry skills we still use today.”

Where this tool and others were discovered in 1994
Where this tool and others were discovered in 1994

Among the findings, the researchers were able to determine which tree the wood came from, how old it might have been, whether it was a branch, and whether it was crafted by artisans, most likely for hunting.

They’re even able to see how the wood is carved, sanded and ‘sealed’ to ensure the tool’s durability in its natural environment.

“The Schöningen people used spruce branches to create this aerodynamic and ergonomic tool,” says co-author Dirk Leder. “Woodworking involves multiple steps, including cutting and stripping the bark, carving it into an aerodynamic shape, scraping off more surface, drying the wood to avoid cracking and warping, and sanding for easy handling.”

All of this suggests that the tool was a reliable long-term companion for its maker and was potentially used to teach younger members of the group to hunt.

“These lightweight throwing sticks may be easier to launch than heavier spears, suggesting the potential for participation across the community,” Ryder said. “Kids could use these tools as they learn to throw and hunt.”

Of the several carved implements most likely used for hunting, this one is most likely used for hunting medium-sized animals such as deer, and possibly even hares and birds.

Despite their spear-like appearance, these throwing sticks were likely used like boomerangs, thrown with enough spin to be fatal on impact.

Fine carpentry is seen in the shaped, sanded and treated pointed ends
Fine carpentry is seen in the shaped, sanded and treated pointed ends

As for which of our ancestors was most likely to display these cunning talents? The jury is out.However, the general consensus leads to a man from heidelberg Maybe H. Neanderthal.

“More exciting information about these early wooden weapons is coming soon,” joked lead researcher Thomas Terberger.

If you’re nearby, you can see this 300,000-year-old wooden wonder research museum in Schöningen.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

source: University of Reading