Site Highlights Early Humans' Mastery of Wood, Largely Lost

Spear Horizon site shows evidence of splitting, carving wood 300K years ago
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2024 5:30 AM CDT
These Are Humans' Oldest Preserved Hunting Weapons
Spears dated to 300,000 years old, collected from a site near Sch?ningen, Germany.   (Nieders?chsisches Landesamt f?r Denkmalpflege)

The Stone Age, launched roughly 3 million years ago, marks the time when tools first appeared. Early humans used stones for hammering, stones for grinding, and sharp stone flakes as knives and projectile points. But the Stone Age might just as well be called the Wood Age, German archaeologist Thomas Terberger tells the New York Times. Though harder to find intact, wooden tools have probably "been around just as long as stone ones, that is, 2.5 [million] or 3 million years," says Terberger, whose research has uncovered wooden spears and throwing sticks now "considered the oldest preserved hunting weapons," per the Times.

Beginning in 2021, Terberger and colleagues examined more than 700 wood fragments excavated from the peat of an open-pit coal mine in northern Germany between 1994 and 2008 and preserved in distilled water. Since the lack of oxygen in peat slows the decay of organic matter, researchers were able to identify at least 20 hunting weapons, including 7-foot-long spears and double-pointed throwing sticks, as well as 35 nonweapons, including artifacts believed to have been used to process animal hides, according to the study published last month in PNAS. The tools were carved from hard and flexible spruce, pine, or larch, likely collected from 2 miles to 3 miles away. The craftsmanship is "exceptional," and there's also evidence of "tool maintenance and recycling," per

The tools date to 300,000 years ago, when Neanderthals in Europe were supplanting their direct ancestors of Homo heidelbergensis, per the Times. No hominid bones were found at the Spear Horizon site in Schoeningen. Either way, the study offers 187 examples of early humans splitting and scraping wood to their own uses. "Until now, splitting wood was thought to have been only practiced by modern humans," lead study author Dirk Leder tells the Times. Experts believe early humans engaged in woodworking. But of the thousands of archaeological sites dated to the Old Stone Age (Lower Paleolithic) between 2.7 million years and 200,000 years ago, "wood has been recovered from fewer than 10," per the Times. (More discoveries stories.)

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