Neanderthal weaponry shown to be far more advanced than we thought

25 Jan 2019

Image: © procy_ab/

Researchers analysing ancient Neanderthal spears found that they are amazing examples of precision weaponry, not just basic tools.

The image that our Neanderthal cousin species was far inferior in intelligence to our own is quickly eroding as we come to know more about their past. Now, researchers from University College London have added further proof of our ancestors’ intelligence by discovering just how capable they were with precision weaponry.

Publishing its findings in Scientific Reports, the team examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000-year-old Schöningen spears – the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records – to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target at distance.

The research showed that these spears would have been more than capable of allowing a Neanderthal hunter to take down a large animal at a distance. This is a significant discovery because, until now, it was believed that Neanderthals could only hunt and kill their prey at close range.

‘Our clever and capable cousins’

The replica spears were handmade using metal tools, with the surface of them manipulated at the final stage with stone tools, replicating how they would have been carved originally. When thrown, they were shown to be capable of hitting a target at a distance of up to 20 metres.

Despite researchers believing the spears’ weight would cause them to struggle at high speeds, the javelin athletes were able to throw them with relative ease. This is because the balance of weight at the throwing speed produces enough kinetic energy to hit and kill a target.

20 metres is double the distance that scientists previously thought the spears could be thrown.

“This study is important because it adds to a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals were technologically savvy and had the ability to hunt big game through a variety of hunting strategies, not just risky close encounters,” said Dr Annemieke Milks, who led the study.

“It contributes to revised views of Neanderthals as our clever and capable cousins.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic