Archaeologists have discovered eight extremely well-preserved spears that are an astonishing 300,000 years old, making them the oldest known weapons ever found.
They probably belonged to members of the species homo heidelbergensis, although no human remains have yet been found at the site. Homo heidelbergensis lived throughout the Old World between 600,000 and 300,000 years ago, and may be the direct ancestor of both Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens.
The University of Tübingen team uncovered the spearheads in an open-cast brown coal mine in Schöningen, Germany. They were found alongside animal remains, showing, says the team, that their users were highly skilled craftsmen and hunters, with a capacity for abstract thought comparable to our own.
The animal remains included the bones of large mammals – elephants, rhinoceroses, horses and lions – as well as the remains of amphibians, reptiles, shells and even beetles, all preserved in the brown coal.
Until mining started here, 30 years ago, the finds were below the water table. The archeologists say they are now carrying out "underwater archaeology without the water."
Other finds at the mine include the remains of a water buffalo, an almost completely preserved aurochs - one of the oldest in central Europe - and several collections of stone artifacts, bones and wood.