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Evidence for close-range hunting by last interglacial Neanderthals



Animal resources have been part of hominin diets since around 2.5 million years ago, with sharp-edged stone tools facilitating access to carcasses. How exactly hominins acquired animal prey and how hunting strategies varied through time and space is far from clear. The oldest possible hunting weapons known from the archaeological record are 300,000 to 400,000-year-old sharpened wooden staves. These may have been used as throwing and/or close-range thrusting spears, but actual data on how such objects were used are lacking, as unambiguous lesions caused by such weapon-like objects are unknown for most of human prehistory. Here, we report perforations observed on two fallow deer skeletons from Neumark-Nord, Germany, retrieved during excavations of 120,000-year-old lake shore deposits with abundant traces of Neanderthal presence. Detailed studies of the perforations, including micro-computed tomography imaging and ballistic experiments, demonstrate that they resulted from the close-range use of thrusting spears. Such confrontational ways of hunting require close cooperation between participants, and over time may have shaped important aspects of hominin biology and behaviour.

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Fig. 1: Fallow deer skeleton number 97:14159.
Fig. 2: Archaeological and experimental specimens compared.
Fig. 3: Fallow deer skeleton number 88:10.


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Excavations at NN2 and studies of the Neumark-Nord assemblages were made possible through financial support from the Lausitzer Mitteldeutsche Braunkohlengesellschaft, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt (H. Meller), Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, Leiden University and its Leids Universiteits Fonds, Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (Spinoza Grant 28-548 to W.R.), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG Grant GA 683/7-1 to S.G.-W.) and Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. C.H., J.P. and J.B. have been supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation through Professorship awards PP00P2_166163 and PP00P2_138920 to J.B. and ETH Zurich Research Grant ETH-36 14-1. For realizing the experiments, we are thankful for the support of Kung-Fu-School Baiyin Long Neuwied and all colleagues from the MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioral Evolution.

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Authors and Affiliations



S.G.-W. conceived the study, analysed the cervid assemblage and discovered the lesions. S.G.-W., E.S.N. and R.I. designed the ballistic experiment. J.B., J.P. and C.H. designed the thrusting spear. S.G.-W., E.S.N., R.I., C.H. and M.S. performed the ballistic experiment. S.G.-W., E.S.N., J.P. and E.P. analysed the results. A.J. and F.E. performed the CT imaging. S.G.-W., W.R., E.P. and E.S.N. wrote the manuscript, with contributions from all other authors.

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Correspondence to Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser.

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Gaudzinski-Windheuser, S., Noack, E.S., Pop, E. et al. Evidence for close-range hunting by last interglacial Neanderthals. Nat Ecol Evol 2, 1087–1092 (2018).

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