DFG Schöningen Spears

Documentation and investigation of the oldest wooden weapons of mankind from Schöningen (found location 13 II, excavation H. Thieme)

In the 1990s, the discovery of the world’s oldest complete wooden weapons in the lignite mine of Schöningen (district Helmstedt, Lower Saxony) revolutionized our perspective on the technical-cognitive capabilities of early humans. During excavation nearly all wooden remains from what is known as the „spear horizon“ (Schöningen site 13 II-4) were completely recovered, so there is a unique inventory available for analyses. Worked objects are predominantly made of spruce wood, in some cases also of pine or larch wood; unworked wooden remains, classified as willow or poplar, are plainly part of the natural vegetation of the time.

With the financial support of the German Research Foundation (DFG), a three year-project be will start to analyse all wooden remains from the „spear horizon“ in their entirety. For that purpose, all wooden artefacts will be recorded to obtain a reliable total inventory. High-resolution images of the wooden remains will be obtained by different techniques such as CT, scanning and digital microscopy. In a next step a functional analysis of all artefacts takes place. The chaîne opératoire of all artefacts will be established to clarify in what condition artefacts were brought to the site, and whether and to what extent processing steps may have been carried out directly on site. Among others, refittings of wooden remains are necessary for this. Tree ring sequences of wooden remains will be analysed in order to achieve an internal tree ring sequence for this site, which in turn will permit the identification of possible overlaps in several artefact tree ring sequences. Tree ring sequences of wooden artefacts already worked out by W. Schoch, for instance, verified freezing episodes during periods of growth.

Press release (15.09.2020): “Schöninger spears – mankind’s earliest wooden weapons”