The Thames Beater, a fourth-century BC wooden club (top) and modern replica (bottom).

The destructive powers of the Thames Beater, a fourth-century BC wooden club (top), were tested with a modern replica (bottom). Credit: Meaghan Dyer/M. Dyer & L. Fibiger/Antiquity December 2017

Anthropology

What the ‘Thames Beater’  could do to skulls

A team tracked the source of skull fractures in prehistoric Europeans.

Damage to the skulls of some prehistoric Europeans has been linked experimentally to a specific type of weapon: the wooden club.

Numerous human skeletons from the European Neolithic period, which lasted from about 7000 to 2000 bc, bear fractures indicative of violence. Meaghan Dyer and Linda Fibiger at the University of Edinburgh, UK, sought to determine the kind of weapon that could have inflicted the injuries. They had a male assistant wield a replica of the ‘Thames Beater’ — a wooden club from the fourth century bc that was found in London’s River Thames — against multi-layered synthetic spheres designed to replicate the human head.

The cracks made by the 1.2-kilogram club closely matched those on Neolithic skulls that had evidently been crushed by human blows. The researchers say that their results are the first to link Neolithic blunt-force injuries — trauma inflicted with a non-bladed implement — to a specific weapon.