Stone Age Men Could Kill with One Swing of Their Club
Did war exist in Neolithic times? There is some controversy surrounding this idea, however it is known that violence took place. Archaeologists debate on exactly how much this happened, the nature and the reasons for it, but the story of which weapons were used is beginning to become clearer. All it took was some experimental archaeology, a healthy 30-year old man, and a wooden club replica.
Study leader Meaghan Dyer, a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, told Live Science that the point of this research was not to examine the causes of Neolithic violence, but to discover more about the weapons used at the time. A major issue with this research topic is the fact that few objects definitively used for violence have survived from the Stone Age. As mentioned in the study article published in Antiquity, bows and arrows, axes, clubs, and possible sling-type tools, had to all be considered as potential weapons from that time. "We wanted to see if we could come up with a really efficient method to determine which tools could be used as weapons," Dyer said.
A replica of the Thames Beater, a 5,500-year-old wooden club resembling a "very badly made cricket bat" with a heavier tip, was the weapon of choice for the experiment. Source: Museum of London
The choice of weapon for this experiment was a replica of the Thames Beater, a 5,500-year-old wooden club resembling a "very badly made cricket bat" with a heavier tip. The club was pulled from the Thames River in London. It is now part of the collection at the Museum of London.
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The Thames Beater (top) and the replica club used for experimentation (bottom) with the blade, barrel and pommel labelled. (Meaghan Dyer)
The journal article on the study says that part of the reasoning behind this choice of weapon is the fact that “Wooden clubs have commonly been (and still are) used as weapons in a variety of cultures across time and space.”
The “victims” in the experiment were synthetic skull models designed for ballistics gun testing. The journal article describes the skulls as spheres made up of two halves of specialized polyurethane material which were “glued together and coated in an external rubber skin to simulate part of the outer soft tissue of the skull […] the base of the sphere has a central hole, through which it is filled with ballistics gelatin.”
Live Science reports 30-year-old man in good health was chosen to “swing as hard as he could at the "skulls," as if he were in a battle for his life.” The result came in the form of fractures which look like injuries seen in real Neolithic skulls.
The hand positions used to administer the two types of blow: left) the pommel strike; right) the double-handed strike. Arrows indicate direction of swing. (Meaghan Dyer)
Although archaeologists are sure violence existed in Western and Central Europe during the Neolithic period, it was often unclear what weapons may have caused these injuries, until now.
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This comparison shows how similar the fractures made on the skull model are to the injuries on the skull of a 35- to 40-year-old man buried at the Neolithic site of Asparn/Schultz. (Meaghan Dyer (left); Teschler-Nicola 2012/Copyright Antiquity (right))
"Violence is more complex than maybe we've understood to this point," Dyer said, concluding:
"I'm of the opinion that maybe the word 'war' doesn't apply yet in this period because societies were a bit smaller. But we can start to understand things like raiding, assault, infanticide and murder. By understanding that, we can much better understand what it meant to be a human being in a Neolithic society in Europe."
Top Image: A painting of Stone Age Man