The stick, intricately carved and discovered in Germany, was possibly used as a throwing tool to stun animals.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, a tool maker sat down in present-day Germany with a stick. They stripped the bark, carved the ends into points, seasoned the wood, and sanded it down. Now, archaeologists who found the stick among other wooden tools in Schöningen believe that it was used by early humans to hunt.
“Discoveries of wooden tools have revolutionized our understanding of early human behaviors,” Dr. Annemieke Milks, the lead author of a study on the stick published in PLOS ONE and an archaeologist with the University of Reading said in a statement. “Amazingly, these early humans demonstrated an ability to plan well in advance, a strong knowledge of the properties of wood, and many sophisticated woodworking skills that we still use today.”
The pointy stick was first found in 1994 among other wooden tools in Schöningen. Cosmos Magazine reports that this collection is considered the oldest collection of wooden tools in the world. (Individual wooden tools, such as the 400,000-year-old “Clacton spear,” are older, however.)
Though the tool was found almost 30 years ago, it wasn’t until recently that researchers could study it in depth using technology like 3D microscopy. This gave them a better understanding of how the tool was made and how it was used by early humans.
“You can do things like measure and see the profile of a cut mark,” Milks explained.
Milks and her team determined that the wooden tool was made of a spruce branch which, according to New Scientist, differentiated it from other wooden objects found at the site, which were made of spruce trunks.
So how did early humans use the tools found at the site?
Archaeologists believe that early humans, likely Homo heidelbergensis or Homo neanderthalensis — though no human remains were found at the site — used these weapons as a kind of boomerang to hunt animals.
“The Schöningen throwing sticks may have been used to strategically disadvantage larger [hooved animals such as deer and antelope], potentially from distances of up to 30 meters,” the researchers explained.
Milks speculated that early humans used the throwing sticks to stun animals such as deer, rabbits, and birds, before using spears to finish them off. Discover Magazine additionally reported that the stick appears to have dark spots that may be blood or fat.
The researchers also noted that the stick, light and easy to grasp, may have been used by children. It could have been used in communal hunts in which children participated or perhaps as toy spears that children played with in order to hone their hunting techniques.
“These lightweight throwing sticks may have been easier to launch than heavier spears, indicating the potential for the whole community to take part,” Milks explained. “Such tools could have been used by children while learning to throw and hunt.”
Wooden tools from hundreds of thousands of years ago are extremely rare, as most have been degraded by bacteria or fungi as time passed. The tools found in Germany, however, were submerged in water, which helped preserve them.
“If the wood had been in fluctuating water levels, [it] would have rotted pretty quickly, within a couple of years,” Milks noted.
Fortunately, the wooden tools somehow found their way into the water, preserving them and allowing for their study centuries later. They cast a fascinating light on how early humans crafted weapons and hunted animals, and, perhaps, even how young children developed their own hunting skills.
After reading about the 300,000-year-old pointy stick found in Germany, see how a 2,000-year-old wooden phallic object found in England may be the oldest Roman sex toy ever found. Or, discover the story of the 7,275-year-old well unearthed in the Czech Republic that may be the earliest documented wooden structure ever found.