|Check out the stratification on the profiles behind the besotted archaeologist. Nightmare alley.|
I’ve been waiting for ever to look into what I’ve always suspected was an archaeological myth–the claim that bipedal apes were fashioning javelin sized wooden spears at about 400,000 years ago at Schöningen, a lignite open pit mine in Germany. It’s an old story (1995), and in all they’ve found eight such spears. The original announcement was in Nature.
‘Lower Palaeolithic hunting spears from Germany,’ Hartmut Thieme. Nature 385:807-810, 1997.
The artifacts are indeed suitable for throwing or piercing, and some have longitudinal grooves near the tip that might have held sharp stones. This would indeed be an astonishing accomplishment for Homo heidelbergensis or antecessor. Alas! There’s something rotten in Schöningen.
The archaeological traces at Schöningen are said to be Middle Pleistocene. However, their method of dating is biostratigraphy. Indeed, many of the mammal species associated with the spears had their origin in the Middle Pleistocene. However, all survived well into the period of modern human presence in Europe.
Arvicola terrestris is extant.
The Merck’s rhinoceros (Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis) survived until at least about 25 kyr ago, according to the following paper.
‘The Pleistocene easternmost distribution in Eurasia of the species associated with the Eemian Palaeoloxodon antiquus assemblage,’ Diana Pushkina. Mammal Review 37:224–245, 2007.
The youngest age for Elephas antiquus is 37,440 (+350, 310) BP (GrA-25815), as reported in the following.
‘The presence and extinction of Elephas antiquus Falconer and Cautley, 1847, in Europe,’ Dick Mol, John de Vos, and Johannes van der Plicht. Quaternary International 169–170:149–153, 2007.
So, while it’s possible that the spears are as old as the Schöningen crowd say they are, it’s also possible that they are a lot later–as late as 37,400 BP. With no way to gain a more accurate date for these deposits, why should we privilege the older estimate?
Update 20121008.0400 UTC: In his comment below Marco Langbroek asks ‘How do you explain the full interglacial character of the deposits (from sedimentology as well as pollen) if they are (according to you) late Weichsel?’ Simple. All of these finds are said to be included in fluvial/lacustrine or fluvial deposits. My answer to Marco is as follows. If the spears and other artifacts are from the Weichselian, the sediments in which they occur would have been eroded from older sediments. If so, the pollen record goes from straightforwardly interpretable to intractably mixed in less time than it takes to say ‘Fail!’