|The Clacton Spear is the tip of a 450,000-year-old fire-hardened spear discovered in England. The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London.|
Scientists find that we still have a lot to learn about pointed sticks.
One of the iconic weapons of the Paleolithic is the fire-hardened spear, its wooden tip carbonized by fire to a wicked point. Unfortunately, it turns out that our hunter ancestors were wrong about fire-hardening. Yes, the charring can make wood slightly harder, but it becomes so much more brittle and weak that there's little overall improvement of the weapon. After experimenting with their own fire-hardened spears, a group of British biomechanics researchers now believe our ancestors used fire not so much to make a more deadly weapon but to speed up the process of cutting wood into a point.
The oldest spear ever discovered, the Clacton spear (named after the region in England where it was discovered), dates back 450,000 years. Made by some unidentified ancestors of modern humans, its sharp wooden point was snapped off and buried in soil. There it was sealed away from the elements and preserved far longer than wood ordinarily can be. When the Clacton spear was discovered in the early twentieth century, archaeologists noticed that its tip had been fire-hardened, using a technique that some hunter gatherer groups still use. It has long been believed that the practice of heating a pointed spear tip in the fire was a way of making it sharper and harder. But a new paper published in Royal Society Biology Letters suggests otherwise. [...] Ars Technica