Neandertals practiced close-range hunting 120,000 years ago
With an innovative experimental ballistic setup that includes state of the art motion-sensor technology, the specific form of one of the lesions was reproduced with a wooden thrusting spear that impacted with low velocity. This suggests that Neandertals approached animals very closely and thrusted, not threw, their spears at the animals, most likely from an underhand thrusting angle. Such a confrontational way of hunting required careful planning and concealment and close cooperation between individual hunters.
The ballistic experiments were conducted at the Archaeological Research Centre and Museum of Human Behavioural Evolution MONREPOS, an institution of the Leibniz-Researchinstitute for Archaeology Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum (RGZM). Furthermore, the Institute of Robotics and Intelligent Systems of ETH Zurich and the Archaeological Faculty of the University of Leiden participated in the study.
The lake where the hunts took place was surrounded by a close canopy forest, a type of environment which is deemed particularly challenging for hunter-gatherers, even modern human ones. Interestingly, the excavations in the Neumark-Nord area have yielded tens of thousands of bones of large mammals (including red and fallow deer, horses, bovids) as well as thousands of lithic artefacts from this uniquely rich Last Interglacial lake landscape, attesting to the success of Neandertal survival in forested environments.
Although hominins most likely started hunting with weapons more than half a million years ago, actual evidence on how wooden spear-like objects like those found at Clacton (UK), Schöningen and Lehringen (both in Germany) were used was absent prior to the identification of the Neumark-Nord hunting lesions. As far as spear use is concerned, we now finally have the ‘crime scene’ fitting to the proverbial ‘smoking gun’. "As part of our research focus on nutrition, we have been analysing hunting strategies and weapon technologies of early humans for years," explains Professor Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, head of the Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution MONREPOS, the Pleistocene and Early Holocene Archaeology competence area at the RGZM. And she continues: “The traces we found on the fallow deer skeletons provide further, valuable information on the use of weapons by Neanderthals and give us an insight into the use of spears comparable to those found at the 300,000-year-old site of Schöningen, which were preserved in the restoration workshops of the RGZM in 2010.”
The article has been published in: Nature Ecology and Evolution (25 June 2018)
Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser et al
Evidence for close-range hunting by last interglacial Neanderthals
High resolution pictures
The captions can be found in the attached PDF document.
Contact details for further information
Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser (MONREPOS Archäologisches Forschungszentrum und Museum für menschliche Verhaltensevolution, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum, Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Archäologie und Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz) (corresponding author)
Elisabeth S. Noack (MONREPOS Archäologisches Forschungszentrum und Museum für menschliche Verhaltensevolution und Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz)
Prof. Dr. Wil Roebroeks (Archäologische Fakultät der Universität Leiden)
Dr. Eduard Pop (MONREPOS Archäologisches Forschungszentrum und Museum für menschliche Verhaltensevolution und Archäologische Fakultät der Universität Leiden)
Prof. Dr. Jonas Buchli (Agile and Dexterous Robotics Lab, Institut für Robotik und Intelligente Systeme, ETH Zürich)
Dr. Johannes Pfleging (Agile and Dexterous Robotics Lab, , Institut für Robotik und Intelligente Systeme, ETH Zürich)