by Brian Thomas, M.S.
Researchers discovered eight well-manufactured throwing spears in an Ice Age coal deposit near Schöningen, Germany. They are calling these the oldest human tools. What can forensic science reveal about the people who made them?
Portions of the Schöningen open pit coal mine were set aside for archaeological work decades ago. In 1997, Hartmut Thieme of the Lower Saxony State Office for Heritage described three spears that he found in the Helmstedt lignite coal mine.1 They were constructed to such exacting specifications that replicas of them performed as well as modern javelins in throwing tests.
The site also contained fossils of fruit, other vegetation, birds, fish, and thousands of mammal bones representing rhinoceros, elephant, cows, red deer, many smaller mammals, and mostly horses—including many horse bones with cut marks from butchery. Such an assemblage of various animals and human remains clearly indicate that a severe Ice Age storm washed them into a low-lying area and quickly covered them with mud.2 Indeed, it had all been submerged for centuries until engineers drained the area to expose and mine its coal.
Archaeologists from the University of Tubingen found eight additional spears from the Schöningen coal mine. They appear to have been mass produced. Like javelins, their center of gravity was balanced toward the front of each spear. The news release said, “The spears and other artifacts as well as animal remains found at the site demonstrate that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, well adapted to their environment—with a capacity for abstract thought and complex planning comparable to our own.”3
The additional spears corroborate the significance of the 1997 spears, which had rewritten evolutionary notions of early Europeans as brute scavengers, not “highly skilled craftsmen. “Archaeology magazine reported, “They suggest that early man was able to hunt, and was not just a scavenger.”4….
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