Archaeologists in Germany have unearthed the oldest known large-scale collection of human-made wooden tools.
The artifacts, which date back about 300,000 years, were discovered at a site near Schöningen, Germany. The found collection includes some early human-made hunting weapons, including wooden spears and shorter throwing sticks sharpened at both ends.
Scientists analyzed the wooden tools using micro-CT scanning, 3D microscopy, and infrared spectroscopy to try to garner a deeper understanding of how the tools were made and exactly what purpose they were designed for. Traditionally, wooden artifacts have not been studied to the same degree as bone or lithic tools, so this systematic technological analysis sets a new standard for deeper study of wooden tools.
The double-pointed stick in particular reveals new human behaviors for the time period, according to the results published in the PLOS ONE Journal. The spruce branch was debarked and shaped for optimal aerodynamics and ergonomics. The study indicates that the wood was seasoned to prevent it from cracking and warping.
The main purpose of the tool was as a throwing stick for hunting, the detailed multi-analytic techniques suggest.
“Potential hunting strategies and social contexts including for communal hunts involving children,” the researchers write. “The Schöningen throwing sticks may have been used to strategically disadvantage larger ungulates [hooved animals such as deer and antelope], potentially from distances of up to 30 meters.”
This particular stick was probably lost while hunting after being used for years, and then rapidly buried in mud.
The age of the tools suggests that the craftsmen were either Homo heidelbergensis or Homo neanderthalensis.
The craftsmanship of the double-pointed sticks in relation to the time period they date back demonstrates a revelation of new human behaviors for the time period that includes sophisticated woodworking techniques, according to researchers.
In 2012, a separate collection of tools was discovered at the Schöningen site, those dating back approximately 171,000 years. Scientists determined that those were probably made using fire.
The recently analyzed Schöningen spears, while being a part of the largest-scale ancient wooden tool collection, are not the oldest known tools made from wood.
More than a hundred years ago, in 1911, the oldest known wooden implement was discovered near Essex, England. That artifact, known as the “Clacton Spear” is believed to be the 400,000-year-old tip of a hunting spear.
Feature image via Peter Pfarr.