Event 44

400,000 years ago

Reconstruction of one of the wooden spears from Schoeningen, Germany, about 400,000 years old. Such tools suggest that humans may have become more formidable hunters at least by this time.
Credit: Photo by Chip Clark, Human Origins Program, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. This photo is used with permission. All rights reserved.

A long, pointed piece of wood can be a very lethal hunting weapon. A spear used as a thrusting or throwing weapon can greatly increase an individual’s hunting success, as compared to throwing rocks or using clubs. (Even in recent times, a bayonet fixed to the end of a rifle was a makeshift spear and a weapon of last resort). At the German site of Schoeningen, dating to about 400,000 years ago, five complete and partial wooden spears were preserved in waterlogged deposits associated with stone tools (a non-handaxe industry) and fossil mammal remains.

Although no fossil human remains have yet been discovered, this is the time period of Homo heidelbergensis. These spears were made out of spruce saplings and were over six feet long, with a carefully-sharpened tip on the thicker, heavier end of the spear. This is dramatic evidence of more complex hunting technology, and also good evidence of long-range planning. One of theses spears would take hours to make and would presumably be carried during hunting trips. The ethnographic evidence shows us that such spears are also lethal weapons in warfare and self-defense.


These wooden spears were found at a waterlogged site with fossil animal bones indicating an age of about 400,000 years ago. We assume they are spears since they have the same morphology of wooden spears used by hunter-gatherers such as the Australian aboriginal tribes in recent times.


The success of the human lineage has been due to a number of new adaptations, including improved hunting techniques to increase the amount of meat and fat in the diet. The wooden spears of Schoeningen bear witness to new hunting strategies and technologies.


This Smithsonian webpage shows a picture of, and describes the oldest wooden spear.

This is a Wikipedia webpage about spears.

This is a Seattle Times article, “Chimp seen hunting with handmade spears.”

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