F Rosa Rubicondior: Creationism in Crisis - Sophisticated Wooden Hunting Tools Were Being Made In Schöningen, Germany - 290,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Creationism in Crisis - Sophisticated Wooden Hunting Tools Were Being Made In Schöningen, Germany - 290,000 Years Before 'Creation Week'

Early humans used wood splitting 300,000 years ago to hunt animals, study shows

290,000 years before creationism's little god decided to create the small flat planet with a dome over it, in the Middle East, and before anatomically-modern humans had left Africa, someone was creating hunting weapons in a 'workshop' in what is now Schöningen, Lower Saxony, Germany.

What information do you have on the archaeological site at Schöningen, Lower Saxony, particularly on how the wooden artifacts were dated? The archaeological site at Schöningen, located in Lower Saxony, Germany, is renowned for its remarkable finds of wooden artifacts, particularly wooden spears. These artifacts have provided valuable insights into the behavior and technology of early humans in Europe.

The Schöningen site has yielded several wooden spears, some of which are remarkably well-preserved. These spears are estimated to be around 300,000 years old, making them some of the oldest known hunting weapons in the archaeological record.

One of the methods used to date the wooden artifacts found at Schöningen is dendrochronology, also known as tree-ring dating. Dendrochronology involves analyzing the growth rings of trees to determine the age of wooden samples. However, in the case of the Schöningen spears, dendrochronology was not applicable because the wood had undergone significant chemical and physical changes over time, making it difficult to identify and count growth rings.

Instead, researchers utilized other dating methods such as radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon dating involves measuring the amount of radioactive carbon-14 remaining in organic material to estimate its age. However, radiocarbon dating is only effective for materials up to around 50,000 years old. To overcome this limitation, researchers at Schöningen used a method called electron spin resonance (ESR) dating.

ESR dating is a technique used to date materials that contain trapped electrons, such as tooth enamel or certain minerals. By measuring the amount of trapped electrons and their properties, scientists can estimate the age of the material. This method was used to date the sediment layers surrounding the wooden artifacts at Schöningen, providing an estimate of their age.

Through these dating methods, researchers have been able to establish the approximate age of the wooden spears found at Schöningen, shedding light on the hunting practices and technological capabilities of early humans in Europe during the Middle Pleistocene epoch.

Tell me more about electron spin resonance dating.

Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) dating is a scientific technique used to date materials that have been exposed to radiation, such as certain minerals or tooth enamel. It is particularly useful for dating archaeological and geological materials beyond the range of radiocarbon dating.

Here's how ESR dating works:
  1. Principle: When certain materials are exposed to radiation, such as cosmic rays or natural radioactivity in the environment, they can become trapped in defects within the crystal lattice structure of the material. These trapped electrons have an inherent spin, which can be affected by an external magnetic field. ESR dating measures the amount of trapped electrons and their spin properties to estimate the age of the material.
  2. Trapped Electrons: Over time, trapped electrons accumulate in the crystal lattice of the material. The rate of accumulation depends on factors such as the type and amount of radiation to which the material has been exposed, as well as its environment. Trapped electrons are usually produced by ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays or cosmic rays, which knock electrons out of their atomic positions and into trap sites within the crystal lattice.
  3. Measurement: To measure the trapped electrons, the sample is first exposed to a magnetic field, causing the electrons to absorb energy and move to higher energy states. When the magnetic field is removed, the electrons return to their original state, emitting energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation. This emitted energy is detected and analyzed to determine the concentration of trapped electrons and their properties.
  4. Age Calculation: The age of the sample is calculated based on the accumulated dose of radiation it has received over time. This dose is determined by comparing the concentration of trapped electrons in the sample to a standard dose rate calibration curve, which relates the amount of trapped electrons to the known radiation dose received by the material. By extrapolating the accumulated dose from the concentration of trapped electrons, scientists can estimate the age of the sample.
ESR dating has been used to date a variety of materials, including tooth enamel, quartz, and certain types of fossilized shells. It is particularly valuable for dating materials beyond the range of radiocarbon dating, extending the chronological record of archaeological and geological sites back hundreds of thousands to millions of years. However, ESR dating requires careful calibration and consideration of factors such as radiation dose rates and environmental conditions to produce accurate age estimates.
What hominins were in what is now Germany, 300,000 years ago? Around 300,000 years ago, during the Middle Pleistocene epoch, the hominins inhabiting what is now Germany were likely early members of the Homo genus. One of the most well-known and widespread species during this time was Homo heidelbergensis. Fossil evidence suggests that Homo heidelbergensis inhabited parts of Europe, including what is now Germany, during the Middle Pleistocene. These early humans were likely skilled hunters and toolmakers, and they may have been the ancestors of both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens. However, it's important to note that our understanding of ancient hominin populations is continually evolving as new discoveries are made and research progresses.
The main candidate for their creator is Homo heidelbergensis, believed to be the immediate ancestor of Neanderthals, but whoever made them, they are the oldest known complete hunting weapons.

They were found during an archaeological dig at Schöningen in 1994 and have now been examined using modern technology by researchers from the Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage (NLD) and the Universities of Reading, UK and Göttingen, Germany, who have reported their findings, open access, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS).

The researchers have shown how these pre-Homo sapiens people resharpened broken points on spears and throwing sticks and made tools by splitting wood - the first time this has been demonstrated for other than Homo sapiens. Some of the tools may have been used for softening and scraping animal skins rather than for hunting.

There is evidence of much more extensive and varied procedures of spruce and pine woodworking than previously thought. Selected roundwoods were worked into spears and throwing sticks and brought to the site, while broken tools were repaired and recycled on-site.

Dr. Dirk Leder, co-lead author
Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage (NLD)
(Quoted in information made available to Phys.org by Reading University)

What surprised us was the high number of point and shaft fragments coming from spears and throwing sticks that were previously unpublished. The way the wooden tools were so expertly manufactured was a revelation to us.

Dr. Annemieke Milks, co-author.
Department of Archaeology
University of Reading, Earley, Reading, UK.
(Quoted in information made available to Phys.org by Reading University)

Wood was a crucial raw material for human evolution, but it is only in Schöningen that it has survived from the Paleolithic period in such great quality.

Professor Thomas Terberger, co-lead author
Department of Archaeology
Lower Saxony State Office for Cultural Heritage, Hannover, Germany And Department of Prehistoric Archaeology
Georg-August University Göttingen, Gottingen, Germany
(Quoted in information made available to Phys.org by Reading University)
At least 20 wooden spears and throwing sticks were initially excavated at Schöningen in 1994 and numerous other wooden artifacts, dating back to the end or a relatively warm interglacial period 300,000 years ago, have since been recovered from the site.

The researchers give more technical details and background in their open access paper in PNAS:

Wooden tools rarely survive in the Paleolithic record limiting our understanding of Pleistocene hunter-gather lifeways. With 187 wooden artifacts, Schöningen 13 II-4 provides the largest assemblage worldwide introduced here for the first time in full. Wooden tools include at least 10 spears and seven throwing sticks used in hunting next to 35 newly recognized pointed and rounded split woods likely used in domestic activities. The study provides unique insights into Pleistocene woodworking techniques, tool design, use, re-working, and human behavior connected to wooden artifacts. Human evolution studies show increasing brain size and technological complexity that coincide with human group hunting over the last 2 Ma. Schöningen’s wooden hunting weapons exemplify the interplay of technological complexity, human behavior, and human evolution.


Ethnographic records show that wooden tools played a pivotal role in the daily lives of hunter-gatherers including food procurement tools used in hunting (e.g., spears, throwing sticks) and gathering (e.g. digging sticks, bark peelers), as well as, domestic tools (e.g., handles, vessels). However, wood rarely survives in the archeological record, especially in Pleistocene contexts and knowledge of prehistoric hunter-gatherer lifeways is strongly biased by the survivorship of more resilient materials such as lithics and bones. Consequently, very few Paleolithic sites have produced wooden artifacts and among them, the site of Schöningen stands out due to its number and variety of wooden tools. The recovery of complete wooden spears and throwing sticks at this 300,000-y-old site (MIS 9) led to a paradigm shift in the hunter vs. scavenger debate. For the first time and almost 30 y after their discovery, this study introduces the complete wooden assemblage from Schöningen 13 II-4 known as the Spear Horizon. In total, 187 wooden artifacts could be identified from the Spear Horizon demonstrating a broad spectrum of wood-working techniques, including the splitting technique. A minimum of 20 hunting weapons is now recognized and two newly identified artifact types comprise 35 tools made on split woods, which were likely used in domestic activities. Schöningen 13 II-4 represents the largest Pleistocene wooden artifact assemblage worldwide and demonstrates the key role woodworking had in human evolution. Finally, our results considerably change the interpretation of the Pleistocene lakeshore site of Schöningen.

Pleistocene Wooden Tools.

The earliest indirect evidence for human woodworking dates back 2 to 1.5 Ma ago based on use-wear on lithics (1, 2). Direct evidence of wood artifacts coming from Africa and the Middle East date back to 780 ka BP (3, 4). The discovery of early wooden hunting weapons, such as spears and throwing sticks, has revolutionized our understanding of early human hunting abilities, social interaction, and hominin cognition. The earliest wooden spears in Europe are 400 to 120 ka old, with an outstanding assemblage from Schöningen (59). The earliest throwing sticks are known from Schöningen (5, 10, 11), with later possible examples from Africa (12, 13). The oldest arrows from the German site Stellmoor are of Late Glacial origin dating c. 11.6 ka BP (14, 15). Digging sticks used in procuring underground storage orangs are preserved at few sites in Africa, Eurasia, and South America being 400 to 14.5 ka old (13, 1620). Early domestic wooden tools have been reported from a few sites in Eurasia and South America (4, 18, 21, 22). Finally, the Late Glacial Shigir idol from Russia represents the earliest known monumental sculpture (23).

Importance of Schöningen.

Schöningen is located in hilly terrain in the northern European Plains (SI Appendix, Fig. S1). Archeological excavations at this former opencast mine commenced in 1981 delivering multiple Middle Pleistocene sites. The oldest wooden tools come from sites Schöningen 12 II, 12 B, and 13 DB, and contain about 30 slotted handles (24). Most important are the ten spears and two double-pointed sticks (DPS) or throwing sticks from Schöningen 13 II-4 (7, 10, 11, 24, 25), which led to a paradigm shift in the hunter vs. scavenger debate (5, 9). Schöningen 13 II-4 is located at a former interglacial lakeshore, which formed atop an Elsterian glacial till during MIS 9 (337 to 300 ka ago) (26). Due to lake level fluctuations, five siltation cycles are distinguished, whereby most wooden artifacts were deposited at the lakeshore during cycle 4 under the influence of low-energy fluviatile sediments in a shallow-water delta plain (27). The major occupation occurred in an open woodland landscape with alder, birch, and willow near riverine and lacustrine locations, pine trees in lowland and hilly areas, and stands of pine, spruce, and larch at higher altitudes (26). Exceptional preservation led to the survival of hundreds of natural and worked wood remains making Schöningen 13 II-4 a prime location for the study of early wooden artifacts and human behavior connected to woodworking. We present results of a systematic study on all the worked wooden artifacts from Schöningen 13 II-4 excavated up until 2008 introducing formerly unrecognized tools, two tool types, and a woodworking technique that have not been reported from Paleolithic contexts thus far.
The securely identified eight spears and six DPSs from Schöningen 13 II-4 excavated until 2008. Note: Former spears VIII and IX (7) are now classified as point fragments. Spear fragments are supplemented by adding drawn elements to the figure following three steps: 1) by extending the outline of tapering ends into complete points, 2) by adding 40 cm for missing front points and 30 cm for back points in accordance with median values of all spears whenever broken ends do not taper, and 3) by extending spear outlines up to 202.7 cm in accordance with the mean length of all complete spears. Accordingly, missing points in DPSs were completed using the outlines of the tapering ends.
Photos: Minkusimages; Matthias Vogel, NLD.

Examples of pointed split woods and close-up images of the worked point.

Photos: Matthias Vogel, Jens Lehmann, Dirk Leder, NLD.

Examples of round-ended split woods and close-up images of the worked tool end.

Photos: Matthias Vogel, Jens Lehmann, Dirk Leder, NLD.

The two woodworking chaîne opératoires of Schöningen 13 II-4. (Top) ChO1—roundwood artifacts. (Bottom) ChO2—Split wood artifacts.
Illustration: Dirk Leder, NLD.

Human brain size evolution and technological complexity development during the Early and Middle Pleistocene. Brain size data after Gingerich (46). Technological complexity according to multiple sources (SI Appendix, SI-Text and Table S23). Procedural units after Perreault et al. (61) (SI Appendix, SI-Text).

Illustration Dirk Leder, NLD.
The correlation between increase in brain size and increase in technological sophistication is interesting and suggests that the advantage of improved technology and better tools was a key driver in the evolution of brain size. This probably held true for the acquisition of other skills too.

Of course, the inventors of the tales in Genesis had no conception of archaic hominins living a hunter-gather existence in northern Europe 300,000 years earlier, nor of the historical progress in human tool-making. So the tales they made up to fill the gaps in their knowledge with narrative, no matter how implausible, were based entirely on what they knew and experienced in their fearful, parochial lives as Canaanite hill farmers and simple pastoralists where Earth looked like a small flat place with a dome over it at the center of everything.

So that's what they described.

How could it have been otherwise with no science and no-one to tell them any better?

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