Neanderthals, though imagined as the inferior cousins of modern humans, were technologically savvy and produced weaponry advanced enough to kill at a distance, reveals a new study, challenging previous findings that considered that our ancient ancestors hunted and killed their prey only at close range.
The study, led by the UK's University College London (UCL) researchers, showed that the wooden spears would have enabled Neanderthals to kill at a distance.
"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 lead author Annemieke Milks from the UCL's Institute of Archaeology.
"It contributes to revised views of Neanderthals as our clever and capable cousins," Milks added.
The study, published in the Scientific Reports journal, examined the performance of replicas of the 300,000 years old Schoningen spears -- the oldest weapons reported in archaeological records -- to identify whether javelin throwers could use them to hit a target at a distance.
The javelin athletes demonstrated that the target could be hit at up to 20 metres, and with significant impact which would translate into a kill against prey.
This is double the distance that scientists previously thought the spears could be thrown, demonstrating that Neanderthals had the technological capabilities to hunt at a distance as well as at close range, the researchers explained.
The weight of the Schoningen spears previously led scientists to believe that they would struggle to travel at significant speed. However, the study shows that the balance of weight and the speed at which the athletes could throw them produces enough kinetic energy to hit and kill a target.
"Our study shows that distance hunting was likely within the repertoire of hunting strategies of Neanderthals, and that behavioural flexibility closely mirrors that of our own species. This is yet further evidence narrowing the gap between Neanderthals and modern humans," Milks noted.
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