Forty thousand years after the disappearance, Neanderthals have remained alive to a great extent like barrels of our jokes. You know how it happens: they are unintelligent, lethargic, incompetent – an embarrassing head in our evolutionary history. Is that correct?
Not exactly. Research, published today at Scientific reports gives another indication that our ancestors were far more advanced than we thought – even when it comes to violence, a sphere in which humanity can claim some unambiguous, albeit unhappy power.
University College London (UCL) archaeologists have shown that the 300,000-year-old Schöningen spears, the oldest surviving hunting weapon ever found in Europe, may have been used to catch prey from a distance rather than only a short distance away. When the spears were excavated between 1994 and 1999 in a lignite mine in Schöningen, Germany, they helped "repel" the feeling that Neanderthals are moths instead of hunters, says the lead author of the new Anemike Milks study. However, Milks noticed, while conducting his study, that there were no data on manually cast copies of the period. Researchers like her "had to understand the basics of how these weapons work. So she decided to do just that with Copenhagen copies.
Using a tree of Norway spruce trees grown in Kent, England, UCL Owen Institute of Archeology, O'Neal Donald builds copies of the hand-sized copies weighing 760 and 800 grams respectively. To ensure that copies not only meet historical specifications, but also that they are handled with appropriate technique, the team has attracted six athletes to copy to throw the spears at high speed hunter. The spear throwers could hit targets up to 20 meters and with enough force to kill the loot. Prior to the experiment, scientists have estimated that copies can only be thrown half. They are relatively heavy, after all – the NFL football balls, for comparison, weigh about 400 grams.
The findings reveal the technological sophistication of the Neanderthals and a great, rather funeral way in which they affect human civilization. "Understanding when we first developed the ability to kill remotely," said co-author Matt Pope in a press release, "it's … a dark but important moment in our history." But these abilities are only part of the rather complicated Neanderthal. puzzle. Between the last 10 and 15 years, Milks says, researchers have had to radically rethink Neanderthals after evidence has emerged that they explore the underworld, create art, think symbolically, and make other advanced stone tools. But maybe that should not be so surprising: the Neanderthals have wandered over 300,000 years. "Understanding them as a human species," says Milks, "helps us understand their longevity."
Continuing ahead, Milks hopes that this study can lay the basis for comparing early copies with later projectiles and that a larger sample size can illustrate the importance of variables such as skill and body size when handling them. Until then, let's give a break to the Neanderthals.