New evidence suggests that the Neanderthals were more advanced than previously thought. These early humans apparently had the intelligence to build and use hunting weapons that they could use to kill prey from a safe distance.

Replicas Of Schöningen Spears

The 300,000-year-old Schöningen spears are throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age that hold the record as the oldest known wooden artifacts in the world. They are also the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons from prehistoric Europe so far discovered.

The spears were excavated between 1994 and 1999 in Schöningen, Germany along with approximately 16,000 animal bones.

Javelin Athletes

To find out if the Schöningen spears could hit a target at a distance, Annemieke Milks, from University College London, and colleagues made replicas of the prehistoric weapons. They also asked six javelin athletes to throw the spears.

The researchers chose javelin athletes for the study because they have the skill to throw at high velocity, which can match of the capability of Neanderthal hunters.

Hunting Prey At A Distance

The athletes showed they could hit a target at a range of up to 20 meters, and with significant impact that could translate into killing a prey.

This means the wooden spears would have allowed the Neanderthals to use them as hunting weapons and kill at a distance.

The Neanderthals have long been known as hunters but the finding is significant since earlier studies suggest these archaic human species could only hunt and kill their prey at a close range. The demonstrated range was, in fact, double the distance scientists previously thought the spears could be thrown.

Scientists previously thought the weight of the Schöningen spears would have prevented the weapons to travel at significant speed. The findings, however, showed that with the right balance of weight and speed, the thrower of these spears could hit and kill a target at a distance.

"The results show that distance hunting was likely within the repertoire of hunting strategies of Neanderthals, and the resulting behavioural flexibility closely mirrors that of our own species," Milks and colleagues wrote in their study published in the journal Scientific Reports on Jan. 25.

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