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Experimental Evidence Concerning Spear Use in Neanderthals and Early Modern Humans

TitleExperimental Evidence Concerning Spear Use in Neanderthals and Early Modern Humans
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Type of Articlearticle
Publication LanguageEnglish
ISSN Number0305-4403

J. Whittaker: Argues that Neanderthal humeri are asymmetrical, with right more robust. They are wider front to back, compared to Upper Paleolithic humeri which are rounder, consistent with (tortional) throwing loads. Neanderthal asymmetry more likely to result from thrusting spears, and the Lower and Middle Paleolithic spears so far found are large and heavy, better for thrusting than throwing. In an underhand thrust, the strong hand is at the back, and takes most of the (bending) stress.
Experiment used 8 untrained subjects thrusting. Showed asymmetrical stress on trailing arm, high enough load to stimulate bone remodeling. So experiment and skeletal studies are consistent with belief that spear thrower did not appear until into the Upper Paleolithic.
[Probably right, but problems with conclusions include small sample of experimental subjects, small sample of relevant prehistoric bones, and the many other assymetrical things right-handed people do with their arms, including throwing. All this really shows is that thrusting affects trailing arm more than leading arm. Does a hunter really thrust often enough to affect arm strength? Aren’t other things going to be much more important?]
Claims Neanderthal and early Up Pal “right-dominated strength asymmetry… prepared to withstand bending in the parasagittal (anteroposterior) plane.” With lack of projectile evidence, best conclusion = “thrusting spear use one of principle sources of osteogenic stimuli” in humeri. But Late Up Pal humeri “more equally resistant to bending moments in multiple directions (and torsion, as generated during throwing) as well as right-dominated strength asymmetry.” With evid of throwing weapons, so throwing in LUP was important.