300,000-Year-Old Wooden Throwing Stick Found in Germany

300,000-Year-Old Wooden Throwing Stick Found in Germany

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300,000-Year-Old Wooden Throwing Stick Found in Germany

In Germany, a 300,000-year-old hunting stick able to kill big animals has been discovered.

During the Ice Age, the wooden throwing stick, used by the extinct human subspecies Homo heidelbergensis, was capable of killing waterbirds and horses.

Picture of throwing stick from Schöningen, Lower Saxony, Germany, with four views and engravings

The 25-inch-long throwing stick, carved from spruce wood, could reach a maximum speed of 98 feet (30 metres) per second, according to experiments.

German researchers said that the weapon was thrown like a boomerang, with a sharp side and a flat side, and spun around the centre of gravity powerfully.

But when in flight, the weapon, also referred to as ‘rabbit stick’ or ‘killing stick’, did not return to the thrower.

Instead the rotation helped to maintain a straight, accurate trajectory which increased the likeliness of striking prey.

Hunters on the Schöningen lakeshore likely used the throwing stick to hunt waterbirds

‘They are effective weapons over different distances, among other things when hunting water birds,’ said Dr Jordi Serangeli, professor at the Institute for Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archaeology at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

‘Bones of swans and ducks are well documented from the find layer.

‘In addition, it is likely that larger mammals, such as horses that were often hunted on the shores of Lake Schöningen, were startled and driven in a certain direction with the throwing stick.’

Researchers uncovered the weapon during an archaeological excavation at the Schöningen mine in Lower Saxony, northern Germany.

‘Schöningen has yielded by far the largest and most important record of wooden tools and hunting equipment from the Paleolithic,’ said Professor Nicholas Conard, founding director of the Institute of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Tübingen.

Detailed analysis by the researchers showed how the maker of this type of throwing stick used stone tools to cut the branches flush and then smooth the surface.

The stick, carved from spruce wood, is around 25 inches (64.5cm) long, just over 1 inch (2.9cm) in diameter and weighs 264 grams.

This weapon also had fractures and damage consistent with that found on similar experimental examples.

Overview of the excavation at Schöningen. Researchers attribute the discovery to the ‘outstanding’ preservation of wooden artefacts in the water saturated lakeside sediments in Schöningen

For the first time researchers say the study provides clear evidence of the function of such a weapon.

Late Lower Palaeolithic hominins in Northern Europe were ‘highly effective hunters’ with a wide array of wooden weapons that are rarely preserved, they say.

‘300,000 years ago, hunters had used different high-quality weapons such as throwing sticks, javelins and thrust lances in combination,’ said Professor Conard.

‘The chances of finding Paleolithic artefacts made of wood are normally zero.

‘Only thanks to the fabulously good conservation conditions in water-saturated lakeside sediments in Schöningen can we document the evolution of hunting and the varied use of wooden tools.’

The discovery has been detailed further in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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P. Natasha Covers Classical Archaeology news and has been with Histecho since 2017. She has a Master's degree in MA Archaeology from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting program. A California native, she also holds a Bachelor of science in molecular biology and a Master of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.

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