Study Finds Wood Age May Be More Apt Than Stone Age

May 14, 2024

For decades, scientists have studied ancient humans. And they believed that stone was the chief substance used to make tools and weapons like spears. But new findings show that wood probably played a greater role than once thought.    

A key study was published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It offered the first look at a portion of over 700 wooden objects from prehistoric eras. They were dug up between 1994 and 2008. They were found in an open-pit coal mine near Schöningen. That's a site in northern Germany. Scientists believe the objects came from a warm interglacial period 300,000 years ago. During this time, Neanderthals dwelled in Europe.    

Wood breaks down at a rapid rate. Therefore, archaeologists have unearthed many more stone objects made by ancient humans. And that may have skewed beliefs about the distant past.    

“We can (likely) assume that wooden tools have been around just as long as stone ones,“ Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist told The New York Times. He works at the Department of Cultural Heritage of Lower Saxony in Germany. He said wooden tools were around 2.5 to 3 million years ago. "Preservation bias" alters how we view the past, Terberger added. He pointed out how wooden objects crumble and "rarely" last.  

The dig site is known as Spear Horizon. The projectiles from the site are thought to be the oldest preserved hunting weapons. Experts used modern scanning technology on these objects. They said that the objects were fashioned into 6- to 7-foot javelin-like spears. They also think the objects were used to punch holes and smooth animal hides for clothing.   

Thus, it turns out that Neanderthals may not have been hand-to-mouth scavengers, as believed. Instead, they could've been big-game hunters.

Reflect: Think of our current civilization. What objects do we use today that anthropologists might puzzle over 300,000 years from now?

Photo of Clacton Spear courtesy Geni on Wikimedia Commons.

What indicates that more stone tools than wooden tools have been found at prehistoric sites? (Common Core RI.5.3; RI.6.3)
a. Stone lasts longer than wood, which tends to deteriorate quickly.
b. Scientists prefer stone tools over wooden tools.
c. Wooden tools are more difficult to make than stone tools.
d. Stone tools are not as useful as wooden tools.
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