The Schöningen Spears, dating from the Paleolithic period, were found at an archaeological site in Lower Saxony. Other wooden artifacts, such as a throwing stick, were also discovered at the site.
The site where the artifacts were found was an open pit mine.
The Schöningen spears, which are among the oldest known hunting tools in the world, were analyzed using absolute dating methods. It was determined that the spears are between 290,000 and 337,000 years old.
The discovery of these artifacts has significantly changed people’s understanding of early humans. They are now on display in a museum built in their honor.
Where were the Schöningen spears found?
The Schöningen spears were found in an open pit mine. The site where the spears were found was discovered on the edge of the open pit mine. It is located about 10 meters below the original surface of the mine. It was excavated by the Kohlen-Bergwerke AG.
The base of the spear was found in an open pit mine that was in operation from 1992 to 2009. It is located in a former riparian zone that has been used by animals and humans for thousands of years. The area, which covers about 3,600 square meters, is one of 13 sites excavated during the exploration of the open pit mine.
On display in the museum’s exhibition area are five thick packages of layers created by silting and changes in the water level due to the changing climate in the lake. These packages show the changes in climate during the different climatic phases.
The rapid and airtight coverage of the find layers was attributed to the quality of the organic materials preserved in the soil. In addition, the location of the site was secured by the artificial lowering of the groundwater table during the mining operations of the Schningen open pit lignite mine from 1979 to 1982.
The site where the artifacts were found was an area known as the spear horizon. It is approximately 10 meters wide and 125 meters long and runs parallel to the former lakeshore, which was in siltation zone 4 during the late Holstein Warm Period.
Originally, the artifacts were thought to be about 400,000 years old. However, various dating methods have been used to determine the age of the artifacts.
What do the Schöningen spears look like?
One of the spears found was a wooden throwing spear about 2.53 meters long. It was made from straight spruce logs. The other two spears, referred to as Spear IV and V, are made of pine wood.
The choice of coniferous woods used to make the spear was based on the cooling effect of the climate during the interglacial period.
The size of the spear is between 2.5 and 5 centimeters. Although the wood species used to construct the artifacts are commonly known as softwoods, they were made from slow-growing woods that were exposed to unfavorable climatic conditions. Archaeologists believe the wood grew in a place known as the resin or elm.
The spears, which are between 1.80 and 2.35 meters long, are slightly deformed because they fell due to the pressure of sediments. They are very carefully crafted and show the high level of craftsmanship that was practiced in that period. Like today’s competition spears, their tips are symmetrically shaped. They also have a central pith, which is the weakest part of the shaft, and the tip ends are located near it.
The characteristics of wooden spears from the Schoeningen Spear are similar to those used in modern competitions. In tests, athletes were able to successfully throw the artifact replicas up to 70 meters. After throwing the replicas at a distance of 20 meters, researchers from University College London claimed that these objects were very dangerous.
Other wooden weapons found with the spears.
**Although the function of the wooden stick found in the site is not clear, it is believed that this type of tool was used for various purposes.
In 1994, the stick was the first functioning wooden tool discovered. A similar object was discovered in 2016 at the same site. Although the signs of use on the wooden tool were not clear, it was assumed that it was a throwing stick.
The throwing stick, which is 65 centimeters long and has a diameter of about 2.9 centimeters, is also made of solid wood. It is believed that these items were used during the hunting season. Scientists also believe that these objects were used to drive horses.
What else was found together with spears?
**Archeologists have also discovered various other artifacts, for example stone artifacts and skeletons of animals such as elephants, rhinos, and cattle.
Most of the animal bones that were found were from horses. About 12,000 of these bones were from bison, red deer, and horses.
The horse bones found in the area belong to a species known as the Mosbach horse. They have different cuts on the stone tools, indicating that these tools were used by more than one person. Using a scanning electron microscope, researcher Thijs van Kolfschoten was able to identify fine stone chips in the bones.
The spear find layer also contains about 1500 flint stone artifacts that are thought to have been brought there by humans. Among them are knives, blades and scrapers. The archaeologists also discovered several stone tools that have been altered due to the environment from which they came.
Are there similar finds elsewhere that resemble the Schöningen spears?
Only a few wooden artifacts from the Paleolithic period have been found. These include the wood found in the southern English town of Clacton-on-Sea and the finds from the Spanish sites of Ambrona, Bad Cannstatt, and Torralba. Although only one wood fragment from the town of Clacton-on-Sea remains intact, the other artifacts from these areas are known to be incredibly rare.
The use of the wood from the Bilzingsleben site has been questioned due to its age. The wooden thrusting lance from Lehringen in Lower Saxony, on the other hand, is 125,000 years old. It is believed that this type of tool was used to kill a forest elephant.
In 2012, it was reported in the journal Science that researchers from South Africa found evidence that Homo sapiens may have hunted big game with spears made from sharpened stone points. This suggests that these people hunted animals with wooden shafts.
A team of researchers from the University of Toronto analyzed the ferruginous rock, which came from a region in South Africa that is about 500,000 years old. They discovered several signs that suggest the objects were used as spears.
What is the significance of the Schöningen spears for Achaeology?
Excavator Hartmut Thieme believes that the site where the stone tools were found was a hunting camp. He says that the animals were killed with a combination of stone tools and hunting techniques.
The dense reeds around the lake provided cover for the hunters, and they were able to kill the horses by throwing spears at them.
The researcher concluded that the hunting season began in the fall. He also found traces of a ritual action in the spears left behind by the hunters. These objects show that the hunters used their spears for a ritual.
The discovery of the Schöningen site and the spears has revolutionized our understanding of early human development. It has also refuted earlier scientific opinion that Homo erectus and other early humans were only able to feed on carrion and plants.
The discovery of the spears and the throwing stick, which were made of a type of wood, are the first evidence that people hunted in the prehistoric period. They also prove that early humans were able to handle different types of weapons.
The ability to successfully hunt large game was not only impossible without the necessary skills and a complex social structure, but also required the development of various forms of communication and intellectual abilities. Homo heidelbergensis is thought to have developed these skills as well.
Is the town of Schöningen a world heritage site?
In 2016, the town of Schöningen announced that it plans to apply for the Schöningen Spears as a World Heritage Site. In 2021, the state government of Lower Saxony also nominated the site for the German Tentative List. The application was made because the spears are an important testimony to early human development. They also prove that early humans were able to handle different types of weapons.
Germany has submitted a list of sites to be considered for inclusion on the World Heritage List in 2024.
History of research
Beginning in 1983.
Development of the Schningen open pit mine began in 1979, and the project was supported by the construction of a power plant near the mine. The Esbeck earthwork was also located on the site of the power plant.
In 1982, an institute for the preservation of historical monuments conducted an archaeological survey of the ground monument in the Helmstedt coal mine. Due to the extensive mining area, it was expected that more archaeological sites would be discovered. In 1983, Hartmut Thieme of the Institute started a project to explore the mining district and the Braunschweig coal mines.
The discoveries of the Schning spears and other surface sites in Germany led to the documentation of significant sites from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age in the following years.
Spear finds from 1994
In 1992, the first Old Paleolithic find layers were discovered in the southern part of the pit field, which lay beneath the Ice Age deposits. The following year, various animal bones and a wooden stick were also found at the edge of the pit. This area was identified as site 13.
As the scope of the investigation increased, a large area of the mine was excavated. During this process, an excavation platform known as a spear base was discovered. It contained the remains of a Stone Age hunting camp. The platform also revealed the remains of a large number of horses that were hunted on a lakeshore about 300,000 years ago.
Items found during the archaeological survey included various types of weapons such as spears, staffs, and a stabbing lance.
Research project from 2008
In 2008, the Schning Research Project was established in cooperation between the Lower Saxony State Office for the Preservation of Monuments and the University of Tübingen. The project was funded by the German Research Fund. Nicholas Conard, an archaeologist, led the project.
About 50 scientists from various institutions around the world are currently conducting studies related to the archaeological investigations at Site 13. These include the Senckenberg Research Institute, the University of Leuphana, Leibniz University Hannover and the Roman-Germanic Museum Mainz.
New collaborations from 2016
In 2016, the Lower Saxony Ministry of Science and Culture transferred the archaeological research project on the Schöningen spears to the Senckenberg Research Institute. The institute was chosen for its expertise in the Stone Age. The project’s research was also conducted because of the ministry’s desire to expand public awareness of the site.
Supporters of the project, however, criticized the way the Lower Saxony government handled the project. They criticized the state for failing to adequately communicate the significance of the hunting weapons found at Site 13.
As a result of the criticism, the government of Lower Saxony decided to enter into a new cooperation agreement with the University of Tübingen and SGN. This agreement was signed on August 1, 2016. A scientific advisory board was also established to promote international and national cooperation at the site.
The scientific excavations at Site 13 have not yet been completed. The team consists of ten people, and the main excavation is supported by about 10 students. In 2016, the leader of the project, Jordi Serangeli, expected more important discoveries at the site.
Further investigations starting in 2020.
In 2020, a three-year research project will conduct further investigations on the various objects found at Site 13. The project, which is being conducted jointly by the NLD and the University of Gttingen, aims to gain a deeper understanding of the process of making the wooden objects.
The project, titled “Process of Manufacturing Wooden Products at the Schöningen Spear,” is funded by the German Research Foundation. It is led by Thomas Terberger of the NLD and Holger Mlitz of the University of Göttingen.
Exhibitions with the Schöningen Spears
The various objects found at Site 13 are currently on display in a museum called the “Schöningen Research Museum.”
This facility, located near where the spears were found, is dedicated to interdisciplinary studies of the Schöningen sites and Pleistocene archaeology. The museum also offers an experiential exhibition.
The site’s landscape biotopes, which include a pasture with wild horses, provide insight into the life forms that existed in the area during the Warm Period. Due to the economic situation, the Lower Saxony State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments decided to change the name of the museum from Palon to Schöningen Research Museum.
In 2007 and 2008 the spears were shown in an exhibition of the Lower Saxony state government. It was titled “The Schöningen Spears: Man and Hunting 400,000 Years Ago.”
A spear was also on display in the exhibition “Archaeology in Germany,” held in Berlin from September 21 to January 6, 2019.
The Schöningen spears are eight wooden spears found between 1994 and 1998 in the Schöningen open pit lignite mine in the district of Helmstedt. It is best to book a hotel room to visit.
These spears are with more than 400,000 years the oldest completely preserved throwing and hunting spears in the history of mankind and have a great importance for history in general.
Until the discovery of these hunting spears, researchers assumed that Homo heidelbergensis, who was closely related to Homo erectus, i.e. “upright man”, and also Neanderthal man were primitive beings who did not know language. Researchers believed until then that these early humans of the Ice Age were herbivores and scavengers who did not go hunting because they did not have the intelligence and the “technical” means to do so.
With the discovery of the Schöningen spears, however, this view had to be revised. The spears are extraordinarily carefully crafted, which was only possible with great craftsmanship and technological skill. Except for one spear, which was made of pine wood, all other spears were made of spruce wood, which was also used on ships. So you can admire it on a Mariner cruise.
Thus the hunting spears are a proof that already Homo erectus and probably also the Neanderthals went hunting and possibly also hunted big game.
Just the big game hunting is not possible at all without communication (in which kind also always), without a certain kind of the cognition and without strategies, so that one must assume that already the Homo erectus possessed exactly these abilities and not, as one believed it up to this time still, only the modern man, the Homo sapiens (the “knowing man”).