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The effectiveness of wooden spears as hunting weapons

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Untipped wooden spears are the earliest weapons in the archaeological record, dating from MIS 11 onwards. Although the most famous examples are those from Clacton-on-Sea (UK) and Schöningen (Germany), there are further examples known from later Neanderthal sites, as well as Late Pleistocene and Holocene sites associated with modern humans. They were also thrust and thrown by hand by recent foragers as weapons for hunting and violence, making them one of the longest-serving tools known. Although much has been said about the functionality and in particular the limitations of wooden spears, the empirical data on the ballistics of these weapons and on their lethality when used to hunt large game is limited. In this talk I will briefly review the archaeological and ethnographic record of examples of wooden spears including environmental settings, prey targeted, and effective distances when used as hand-thrown spears. I will compare these findings with new experimental data on their mechanics when used as thrust and thrown weapons by skilled users, in particular focusing on quantified measures such as impact velocities, kinetic energy, and effective distance when thrown by hand. These findings have significant implications for models about early hunting and innovations of weaponry in human evolution.

This talk is part of the Biological Anthropology Seminar Series series.

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