Asymmetrical Palaeolithic wooden spear tips: Expediency or design?

Human Evolution

Palaeolithic wooden spears provide rare but unique insights into early hunting technology. Examples from Schöningen, Germany indicate that spear tips were sometimes asymmetrical. This asymmetry has previously been interpreted as evidence for planning depth. A more parsimonious explanation, however, is that asymmetrical tips could be more efficiently produced (i.e., took less time to make) than symmetrical ones. Here, we experimentally investigated two different manufacturing processes, producing asymmetrical and symmetrical spear tips, while also testing the influence of biometric factors on spear-tip manufacturing efficiency (measured by time). One group of experimental participants sliced the wooden stave into an asymmetrical shape (slicing on one side of the stave with a steel blade), while the other group created a symmetrical shape (slicing on multiple sides of the stave). Based on time taken, results demonstrated no significant difference in efficiency between symmetrical and asymmetrical spear-tip manufacture. Conversely, some biometric characteristics (specifically pinch strength) present a more dominant influence in explaining time variation. These results demonstrate that the asymmetrical tips at Schöningen were not merely a byproduct of maximizing efficiency during the manufacturing process, but rather are evidence of planning and the associated cognitive capacities of these later Middle Pleistocene hominins.

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