The world’s oldest spears, the Schöningen javelins

One of the Schöningen spears (Image: Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution)

The image on the right is of an amazing artefact that was found in Germany during the 1990s. Dating to approximately 300,000 BC it shows the world’s oldest wooden spear. It was discovered in a deep opencast mine at Schöningen, Germany during an archaeological excavation carried out by Dr. Hartmut Thieme.

In total eight of these Palaeolithic spears were recovered during the excavation, along with the bones of at least 15 horses and a large number of stone tools. Many of the horse bones had evidence for butchery marks suggesting that the remains of a very ancient hunting site had been uncovered.

The spears were fashioned out of spruce wood (with one exception made from pine) and measured between 1.82m to 2.50m long by between 3 and 5cm in diameter. They were carefully carved from tip to base so that the weight and tapered point was towards the front of the spear making it fly straighter, similar to the design of a modern javelin. This indicates that they were probably used as projectile weapons rather than for stabbing and thrusting.







Kouwenhoven, A.P.  ‘World’s Oldest Spears’ in Archaeology Magazine, Volume 50 Number 3, May/June 1997

Schöninger Speere

The Smithsonian: World’s Oldest Wooden Spear

The Oldest Wooden Spears (circa 400,000 BCE)




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2 Responses to The world’s oldest spears, the Schöningen javelins

  1. Cody September 3, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

    How was the wooden spears endure eons underground without decomposition?

    • Colm September 4, 2015 at 10:24 am #

      Hi Cody,

      They were preserved because of the damp, anaerobic conditions in the soil/mud. Without sufficient oxygen present the wood couldn’t decompose. It was these very specific type of soil conditions that allowed the wood to survive.

      All the best, Colm

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