Neanderthals have been imagined as the inferior cousins of modern humans, but a new study by archaeologists at UCL reveals for the first time that they produced weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000 year old Schöningen spears — the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records — to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target at distance…
The research shows that the wooden spears would have enabled Neanderthals to use them as weapons and kill at distance. It is a significant finding given that previous studies considered Neanderthals could only hunt and kill their prey at close range. Paper. (open access) – Annemieke Milks, David Parker, Matt Pope. External ballistics of Pleistocene hand-thrown spears: experimental performance data and implications for human evolution. Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37904-w More.
Since we’re here anyway, how did the researchers discover this? Safe bet, they weren’t out there throwing sharp objects at dump bears at dusk in Northern Ontario landfills:
We worked with a group of six club-level javelin athletes from the UK who threw replicas of a spear from the 300,000-year-old Neanderthal site of Schöningen in Germany at targets set at different distances. We recorded when they hit and missed the target, and filmed release and impacts with high-speed video cameras. This allowed us to evaluate accuracy and capture aspects of flight and impact that have never been scientifically analysed.
The results show that Neanderthals designed weapons that were capable of impacting a target with significant speed and energy from distances of up to 20 metres. This is surprising – archaeologists have typically viewed hand-thrown spears as close-distance weapons, limited to ten metres at most. This is an extremely close hunting distance and would severely limit the strategies that hunters could use. It would also make it extremely dangerous to hunt larger prey with aggressive behaviours, such as bison. Annemieke Milks, “Neanderthals: javelin athletes helped us show how effective they were at hunting with weapons” at The Conversation
Those Neanderthals now, they get smarter every time we run into them. Will the day come when people think it a social cachet to have Neanderthal ancestors?
You probably learned that a species is a group of individuals that can breed to produce fertile offspring, but this is just one of dozens of competing definitions. The lack of consensus on what a species is has big implications for how we think about the natural world and for our efforts to conserve it. But the problems go even deeper. Recent revelations about interbreeding between what some regard as separate species of ancient humans have left many of us wondering: who are “we”, who are “they” and are we actually all one and the same? In other words, how we define a species has become a question at the very heart of human identity. Perhaps it is time to rethink the whole concept.Colin Barras, “Human or hybrid? The big debate over what a species really is” at New Scientist
Hang onto that thought, Colin.
See also: Darwinian Evolution And Underestimating The Neanderthals
See also: Was Neanderthal man fully human? The role racism played in assessing the evidence
Neanderthal Man: The long-lost relative turns up again, this time with documentsFollow UD News at Twitter!