Early humans used expert woodwork skills to make hunting weapons – study

Artist’s reconstruction showing how the stick would have been thrown (Benoit Clarys/Universitat Tubingen)
Artist’s reconstruction showing how the stick would have been thrown (Benoit Clarys/Universitat Tubingen)

A 300,000-year-old hunting weapon has shed new light on early humans as woodworking masters, researchers have said.

The double-pointed wooden stick was produced by Middle Pleistocene humans using sophisticated techniques and was likely used for throwing during hunts, experts suggest.

Analysis of the stick, found in Schoningen in Germany three decades ago, shows it was scraped, seasoned and sanded before being used to kill animals.

According to researchers, the findings indicate early humans’ woodworking techniques were more developed and sophisticated than previously understood.

The findings also suggest group hunts of medium and small animals may have been enabled by the creation of lightweight weapons.

The use of throwing sticks as hunting aids could have involved the entire community, including children, researchers say.

Dr Annemieke Milks, of the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology, led the research.

She said: “Discoveries of wooden tools have revolutionised our understanding of early human behaviours.

“Amazingly, these early humans demonstrated an ability to plan well in advance, a strong knowledge of the properties of wood, and many sophisticated woodworking skills that we still use today.

“These lightweight throwing sticks may have been easier to launch than heavier spears, indicating the potential for the whole community to take part.

“Such tools could have been used by children while learning to throw and hunt.”

Co-author Dirk Leder said: “The Schoningen humans used a spruce branch to make this aerodynamic and ergonomic tool.

“The woodworking involved multiple steps including cutting and stripping off the bark, carving it into an aerodynamic shape, scraping away more of the surface, seasoning the wood to avoid cracking and warping, and sanding it for easier handling.”

The 77cm-long stick, which was found in 1994, is one of several different tools discovered in Schoningen, including throwing spears, thrusting spears and a second similarly sized throwing stick.

According to the study, published in the Plos One journal, the double-pointed throwing stick was most likely used by early humans to hunt medium-sized game like red and roe deer, and possibly fast-small prey including hares and birds that were otherwise difficult to catch.

Principal investigator Thomas Terberger, said: “The systematic analysis of the wooden finds of the Schoningen site financed by German Research Foundation provides valuable new insights, and further exciting information on these early wooden weapons can be expected soon.”