Schöningen spears

The Schöningen spears are a set of eight wooden throwing spears from the Palaeolithic Age that were excavated between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine in Schöningen, Helmstedt district, Germany, together with an associated cache of approximately 16,000 animal bones. The excavations took place under the management of Hartmut Thieme of the Lower Saxony State Service for Cultural Heritage (NLD).

Originally assessed as being between 380,000 and 400,000 years old,[1][2][3][4] they represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons of prehistoric Europe so far discovered. As such they predate the age of Neanderthal Man (by convention taken to emerge after 300,000 years ago), and is associated with Homo heidelbergensis. The spears support the practice of hunting by archaic humans in Europe in the late Lower Paleolithic.

Schöningen Klemmschaft I © C. S. Fuchs NLD
Shaft section

The age of the spears was estimated from their stratigraphic position, "sandwiched between deposits of the Elsterian and Saalian glaciations, and situated within a well-studied sedimentary sequence."[5]. More recently, thermoluminescence dating of heated flints in a deposit beneath that which contained the spears suggested that the spears were between 337,000 and 300,000 years old.[6]

Schöniger Speer Berlin Ausstellung Bewegte Zeiten
One of the spears

Discovery and location

Schöningen 13 II Grabung © P. Pfarr NLD
Excavation site
Moon Lake shoreline - Riding Mountain National Park
The littoral zone of a lake

The site of the finds (Schöningen 13/II sedimentary sequence 4) is one of 13 Palaeolithic places of discovery in the open-cast, lignite mine (working area, south) that was excavated in the course of the prospection of the quaternary surface layer from 1992 to 2009.

The 60 by 50 m (200 by 160 ft) excavation base that was excluded from coal mining represents a small segment of a former littoral zone. This zone has been visited over millennia, between the Elster- and Saale ice ages, by humans and animals alike. The pedestal displays five massive, layered sediment packages that were created by varying levels of the lake and silting-up processes.

Thanks to the quick, airtight covering of the archaeological layers by mud, the organic materials are exceptionally well preserved. In the sequence of the sedimentary layers, climate changes can be read with a high resolution – from a warm, dry phase to airy deciduous forests to tundra. The spears themselves are from an approximately 10 m (32.81 ft) wide and 50 m (164.04 ft) long strip, parallel to the former lake shore in the sedimentary layer four, the late Holstein-interglacial. The archaeological layers beneath have only been partially excavated and have been an objective of a research excavation by the DFG (German Research Association) since 2010.

Together with the spears, some stone artefacts, chips as well as over 10,000 animal bones were found, amongst them 90% horse bones, followed by red deer and European bison.[7] The horse bones come from Equus mosbachensis and are indicative of at least 20 individuals. They show numerous cut marks made by stone tools, but only a few bite marks made by animals. The site is interpreted by the excavator Harald Thieme as testimony of a hunting event as well as the following cutting up and preparation of the kill. According to his scenario, the thick reeds at the lake shore gave the hunters cover, from where the horses, trapped between the hunters and the lake, were culled with accurate spear throws. Because there are bones of young animals amongst the horse bones, he concludes that the hunt took place in autumn.[8] Furthermore, he sees evidence of ritualistic activity, because the spears were left behind.[9]


Schöningen Speer VII im Sediment 1997 © P. Pfarr NLD
A spear in situ

The spears, deformed by the load of the sediment pressure, are made from slim, straight spruce stems – except for spear IV which is made from pine wood. The spears vary in length from 1.82 to 2.25 m (5.97 to 7.38 ft), with diameters ranging from 29 to 47 mm (1.14 to 1.85 in).

They have been worked very thoroughly and are evidence of highly developed technological skills and of a workmanlike tradition. Like in today’s tournament javelins, the greatest diameter and therefore its centre of gravity is in the front third of the shaft. The tips are worked symmetrically from the base of the stems, and the end of the tips were worked beside the medullary ray, the weakest part of the stem, on purpose.

In their throwing qualities, the Schöningen Spears are equal to modern tournament javelins. During tests, athletes could throw replicas up to 70 m (230 ft).[10][11] The choice of the wood is likely to be climatically determined, because during the cooler climate near the end of the interglacial, conifers grew close to the site of the finds.[12]

Other discoveries

More unique wooden artefacts were found at the place of discovery of the wild horse hunting camp: a charred wooden staff (skewer) as well as a wooden tool, tapered at both ends, interpreted as a throwing stick.[13] The stone tools at the place of discovery consist of different scraper-shaped and pointed forms. Evidence of blank production is missing; much retouched debris proves the reworking of the brought-along tools.

Also among the finds are the so-called "grooved wooden tools", excavated at the place of discovery No. 12. Made from the extremely hard wooden branch-bases of the European silver fir, and noticeably incised at one end, they may have been used as a mounting for stone blades. If this interpretation is correct, they are the oldest composite tools of mankind.[13]

Thanks to the good preservation conditions at the place of discovery, there are many finds of small animals, among them small mammals, fish, molluscs and insects. Together with the carpological remains they make a detailed reconstruction of the climate and the environment of the passing of an interglacial period possible.


La Chaîne des Aravis
Seven of the spears are made of spruce (Picea abies) wood
Schöningen 13 II-4 Skelettreste © NLD + K. Cornelius
Associated bone fossils

The spears and the place of discovery have revolutionized the picture of the cultural and social development of early humans. Previously, the widespread opinion was that Homo heidelbergensis (and Neanderthals, regarded as a descendant of H. heidelbergensis) were simple beings without language that lived on plants and carrion. The spears and their correlated finds are evidence of complex technological skills and are the first obvious proof for an active (big game) hunt. It seems that H. heidelbergensis could hunt herd animals that can run faster than a human, and this suggests that they had sophisticated hunting strategies, a complex social structure and developed forms of communication (language ability). H. heidelbergensis therefore already had intellectual and cognitive skills like anticipatory planning, thinking, and acting, that up until then had only been attributed to modern humans.[14][15]

Since 2010, the excavations on top of the excavation base continued in the framework of a project by the Lower Saxony State Service for Cultural Heritage in Hannover and the Eberhard Karls University Tuebingen, Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology of the Institute of Pre- and Protohistory and Mediaeval Archaeology, supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Association). Numerous cooperation partners domestic and abroad are involved in the reprocessing and the evaluation of the excavations: Rijksuniversiteit Leiden (paleontology), Leuphana University Lueneburg (palynologie), Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum in Frankfurt am Main, Leibniz University Hannover(geology), Institute for Quaternary Lumbers Langnau (wood anatomy), Romano-Germanic Central Museum Mainz and others.

In 2009, Lower Saxony allocated public funds from the increased funds for the economy package II for the construction of a research and development centre. The centre, close to the place of discovery, is devoted to the inter-disciplinary research of the Schöningen places of discovery, as well as to the Pleistocene archaeology, and presents the original finds in an experience-orientated, modern exhibition. The transparent research and laboratory area as well as an interactive visitor’s laboratory link the areas “research” and “museum”. A 24 hectare outdoor area presents typical plant communities of the interglacial, among them a pasture for wild horses. The place has been planned as an extracurricular place of learning. The building contractor was the town of Schöningen. Responsible for the conception and contextual planning was the Lower Saxony State Service of Cultural Heritage. The centre was opened at the beginning of 2013.


Archaeologists at the University of Tübingen have questioned some of the initial interpretations of the site.[16] Isotope analysis and wear patterns on the horses' teeth show a wide variety of habitat and diet amongst the animals, indicating that the faunal assemblage accumulated in many small events, rather than one large slaughter. Sediment analysis shows that the red colour previously thought to be a result of hearths and burning are actually iron compounds forming as the lake levels dropped in recent times. Lake algae, sponges, and small crustaceans found in the sediments show that the spears were never on dry land and that the deposit has always been submerged. These data suggest that instead of representing a big hunting event, the spears suggest less social complexity than originally suggested. They also suggest that the horses were hunted in shallow water rather than at the lake edge.

Similar finds

Wooden artifacts from the Palaeolithic age are very rarely delivered to posterity. Beside Schöningen, finds are the Clacton Spear from Clacton-on-Sea (England),[17] Torralba (Spain),[18] Ambrona (Spain)[19] and Bad Cannstatt (Germany/Baden-Wuerttemberg),[20] of which only the Clacton Spear has been preserved. The artificial character of calcified lumbers from the discovery site Bilzingsleben is debatable.[21][22] A wooden stabbing lance from Lehringen, also from Lower Saxony, was found underneath the skeleton of a straight-tusked elephant and is aged approximately 125,000 years, so it is much younger. The elephant was possibly killed by it.[23]


  1. ^ Hartmut Thieme, Reinhard Maier (Hrsg.): Archäologische Ausgrabungen im Braunkohlentagebau Schöningen. Landkreis Helmstedt, Hannover 1995.
  2. ^ Hartmut Thieme: Die ältesten Speere der Welt – Fundplätze der frühen Altsteinzeit im Tagebau Schöningen. In: Archäologisches Nachrichtenblatt 10, 2005, S. 409-417.
  3. ^ Michael Baales, Olaf Jöris: Zur Altersstellung der Schöninger Speere. In: J. Burdukiewicz u. a. (Hrsg.): Erkenntnisjäger. Kultur und Umwelt des frühen Menschen. Veröffentlichungen des Landesamtes für Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt 57, 2003 (Festschrift Dietrich Mania), S. 281-288.
  4. ^ O. Jöris: Aus einer anderen Welt – Europa zur Zeit des Neandertalers. In: N. J. Conard u. a. (Hrsg.): Vom Neandertaler zum modernen Menschen. Ausstellungskatalog Blaubeuren 2005, S. 47-70.
  5. ^ Thieme, H. 1997: Lower Paleolithic hunting spears from Germany. Nature 385(27), 807-810.
  6. ^ Richter, D. and M. Krbetschek. 2015: The age of the Lower Paleolithic occupation at Schöningen. Journal of Human Evolution 89, 46-56.
  7. ^ Voormolen B. 2008: Ancient Hunters, Modern Butcher Schöningen 13II -4, a kill-butchery site dating from the northwest European Lower Palaeolithic. Leiden
  8. ^ Musil R. 2007: Die Pferde von Schöningen: Skelettreste einer ganzen Wildpferdherde in: Thieme H. (ed.) Die Schöninger Speere – Mensch und Jagd vor 400 000 Jahren. pp. 136-140, Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart, ISBN 3-89646-040-4
  9. ^ Thieme H. 2007. Warum ließen die Jäger die Speere zurück? in: Thieme H. (ed.) 2007: Die Schöninger Speere – Mensch und Jagd vor 400 000 Jahren. pp. 188-190 Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart, ISBN 3-89646-040-4
  10. ^ Thieme H. 1999: Altpaläolithische Holzgeräte aus Schöningen, Lkr. Helmstedt. Germania 77, pp. 451-487
  11. ^ Golek M & Rieder H 1999: Erprobung der Altpalaolithischen Wurfspeere von Schöningen in: Stadion, Internationale Zeitschrift für Geschichte des Sports Nr. XXV Academia Verlag Sankt Augustin, S. 1-12
  12. ^ Urban B. 2007: Interglacial Pollen Records from Schöningen, North Germany in: F. Sirocko et al. (ed.): The Climate of Past Interglacials. Development in Quaternary Science Vol.7, S. 417-444
  13. ^ a b Thieme H. 1999: Altpaläolithische Holzgeräte aus Schöningen, Lkr. Helmstedt. Germania 77, S. 451-487
  14. ^ Thieme H. 2007. Der große Wurf von Schöningen: Das neue Bild zur Kultur des frühen Menschen in: Thieme H. (ed.) 2007: Die Schöninger Speere – Mensch und Jagd vor 400 000 Jahren. S. 224-228 Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart ISBN 3-89646-040-4
  15. ^ Haidle M.N. 2006: Menschenaffen? Affenmenschen? Mensch! Kognition und Sprache im Altpaläolithikum. In Conard N.J. (ed.): Woher kommt der Mensch. S. 69-97. Attempto Verlag. Tübingen ISBN 3-89308-381-2
  16. ^ Balter, Michael. 2014. The killing ground. Science 6 June 2014: 344 (6188), 1080-1083. DOI:10.1126/science.344.6188.1080
  17. ^ Oakley, K. P., Andrews, P., Keeley, L. H. u. Clark, J. D. 1977: A reappraisal of the Clacton spearpoint. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 43, S. 13–30.
  18. ^ Freemann L.G. & Butzer K.W. 1966: The Acheulean Station of Torralba (Spain): A Progress Report in: Quaternaria 8: S. 9-22.
  19. ^ Tyldesley J.A. & Bahn P.G. 1983: Use of Plant in the European Palaeolithic: A review of the evidence. in: Quaternary Science Review Vol.2, S. 53-81
  20. ^ Wagner E. 1995: Cannstatt I. Großwildjäger im Travertingebiet. Forschungen und Berichte zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Baden-Württemberg, Band 061 Konrad Theiss Verlag Stuttgart ISBN 978-3-8062-1196-2
  21. ^ Mania D. & Mania U. 1998: Geräte aus Holz von der altpaläolithischen Fundstelle bei Bilzingsleben. Praehistorca Thuringica 2, S. 32-72
  22. ^ Steguweit L. 2003: Gebrauchsspuren an Artefakten der Hominidenfundstelle Bilzingsleben (Thüringen). Tübinger Arbeiten zur Urgeschichte 2. Verlag Marie Leidorf, Rhaden/Westf. ISBN 3-89646-852-9
  23. ^ Thieme H. & Veil S. 1985: Neue Untersuchungen zum eemzeitlichen Elefanten-Jagdplatz Lehringen, Ldkr. Verden. in: Die Kunde 36, S. 11–58.

External links

Coordinates: 52°08′14″N 10°59′18″E / 52.13722°N 10.98833°E

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Burin (lithic flake)

In the field of lithic reduction, a burin (from the French burin, meaning "cold chisel" or modern engraving burin) is a type of handheld lithic flake with a chisel-like edge which prehistoric humans used for engraving or for carving wood or bone.

Burins exhibit a feature called a "burin spall", in which toolmakers strike a small flake obliquely from the edge of the burin flake in order to form the graving edge.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


A cist ( or ; also kist ;

from Greek: κίστη or Germanic Kiste) is a small stone-built coffin-like box or ossuary used to hold the bodies of the dead. Examples can be found across Europe and in the Middle East.

A cist may have been associated with other monuments, perhaps under a cairn or long barrow. Several cists are sometimes found close together within the same cairn or barrow. Often ornaments have been found within an excavated cist, indicating the wealth or prominence of the interred individual.

This old word is preserved in the Swedish language, where "kista" is the word for a funerary coffin.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Eden point

Eden Points are a form of chipped stone projectile points associated with a sub-group of the larger Plano culture. Sometimes also called Yuma points, the first Eden points were discovered in washouts in Yuma County, Colorado. They were first discovered in situ at an ancient buffalo kill site near Eden, Wyoming by Harold J. Cook in 1941. The site, named after discoverer O. M. Finley, eventually yielded 24 projectile points, including eight Eden points, eight Scottsbluff points and one complete Cody point, both other sub-groups within the Plano group. Eden points are believed to have been used between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago by paleo-indian hunters in the western plains.

Eden points are the most common paleo-indian projectile points found today. They have been discovered across the western plain states, including Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, and Montana.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Neolithic founder crops

The Neolithic founder crops (or primary domesticates) are the eight plant species that were domesticated by early Holocene (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) farming communities in the Fertile Crescent region of southwest Asia, and which formed the basis of systematic agriculture in the Middle East, North Africa, India, Persia and Europe. They consist of flax, three cereals and four pulses, and are the first known domesticated plants in the world. Although domesticated rye (Secale cereale) occurs in the final Epi-Palaeolithic strata at Tell Abu Hureyra (the earliest instance of domesticated plant species), it was insignificant in the Neolithic Period of southwest Asia and only became common with the spread of farming into northern Europe several millennia later.Cereals

Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum, descended from the wild T. dicoccoides)

Einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum, descended from the wild T. boeoticum)

Barley (Hordeum vulgare/sativum, descended from the wild H. spontaneum)Pulses

Lentil (Lens culinaris)

Pea (Pisum sativum)

Chickpea (Cicer arietinum)

Bitter vetch (Vicia ervilia)Other

Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.


Schöningen is a town of about 11,000 inhabitants in the district of Helmstedt, in Lower Saxony, Germany.

Stone row

A stone row (or stone alignment), is a linear arrangement of upright, parallel megalithic standing stones set at intervals along a common axis or series of axes, usually dating from the later Neolithic or Bronze Age. Rows may be individual or grouped, and three or more stones aligned can constitute a stone row.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.

Yubetsu technique

The Yubetsu technique (湧別技法, Yūbetsu gihō) is a special technique to make microblades, proposed by Japanese scholar Yoshizaki in 1961, based on his finds in some Upper Palaeolithic sites in Hokkaido, Japan, which date from c. 13,000 bp.

The name comes from the Yūbetsu River (湧別川, Yubetsugawa), on the right bank of which the Shirataki (白滝遺跡, Shirataki Iseki) Palaeolithic sites were discovered.

To make microblades by this technique, a large biface is made into a core which looks like a tall carinated scraper. Then one lateral edge of the bifacial core is removed, producing at first a triangular spall. After, more edge removals will produce ski spalls of parallel surfaces.

This technique was also used from Mongolia to Kamchatka Peninsula during the later Pleistocene.

Transitional fossils with
H. heidelbergensis traits
Related species

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