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Skilled Hunters 300,000 Years Ago

17 September 2012 Universitaet Tübingen

Since the middle of the 1990s is the Lower Palaeolithic excavation site in Schöningen (on the western terminal slope of an opencast lignite mine) at the centre of archaeologists attention. Dr. Hartmut Thieme (Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege, Hannover) discovered eight surprisingly well preserved and approximately 300.000 year old spears, the oldest know hunting weapons in the world. This has led to intensive discussions about the abilities of our ancestors in middle Europe.

The spears and other artifacts as well as animal remains found at the site demonstrate that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, well adapted to their environment – with a capacity for abstract thought and complex planning comparable to our own. It is likely that they were members of the species homo heidelbergensis, although no human remains have yet been found at the site.

Since 2008 the excavation site in Schöningen is being run as a „joint venture“ between the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology of Lower Saxony and the University of Tübingen. The scientific head of the project is Prof. Nicholas Conard, the excavations being supervised by Dr. Jordi Serangeli, both from the Institute of Prehistory. Since 2010 the project is supported by the DFG.

The aim of this collaboration within the framework of a multidisciplinary project is to understand more about hominins and the ecology of the period around 300.000 years ago.

The bones of large mammals – elephants, rhinoceroses, horses and lions – as well as the remains of amphibians, reptiles, shells and even beetles have been excellently preserved. Pines, firs, and black alder trees are preserved complete with pine cones, as well as the leaves, pollen and seeds of surrounding flora.

Until the mining started 30 years ago, these finds were below the natural water table. The archeologists say they are now carrying out “underwater archaeology without the water.” The work continues almost all year round, and every day there is something new to document and recover.

Some of the most important finds of the past four years have been the skull of a water buffalo with remains from human activities, an almost completely preserved aurochs (one of the oldest in central Europe), and several concentrations of stone artifacts, bones and wood. They allow the scientists to examine not just one excavation site but an entire landscape. This makes Schöningen an exciting location and a global reference point not just for archaeology, but also for quaternary ecology and climate research. A research center and museum, the “paläon”, is to be opened in 2013 to provide the public with information about the on going work in Schöningen.

Attached files

  • A beetle’s wing magnified 200 times. Photo: Jordi Serangeli, University of Tübingen

  • Abb 2b Christha Fuchs NLD

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