Study Shows Advantage of Stone-Tipped Spears for Prehistoric Humans

Comparison of stone-tipped and sharpened wooden spears shows difference in penetration and damage.

An experimental study shows that stone-tipped spears do not penetrate as deep into prey as sharpened wooden spears, but cause more damage.

Jayne Wilkins of Arizona State University and colleagues shot six stone-tipped and six sharpened wooden spears at gelatin to test whether stone-tipped weapons penetrated deeper in the gelatin. They then analyzed the penetration depth and damage each weapon caused in over 200 wound tracks. Their results demonstrated that tipped spears did not penetrate deeper into gelatin than untipped spears, but they did create a significantly larger and wider wound cavity. This cavity may have increased the relative “killing power” of the tipped spear, and they may have ultimately caused more damage.

The researchers suggested that tipped spears may have provided an advantage over wood-tipped spears for modern human and Neandertal ancestors about 500,000 years ago, potentially affecting the hunting success, resulting in important implications for human adaptation and life history.



These are the tips of spears featured in the experiment. Credit: Jayne Wilkins et al.  Credit: Jayne Wilkins et al.


Sais Wilkins, “Hafting a stone point to the end of spear was an important innovation that changed life for Pleistocene humans. Humans with stone-tipped spears were more likely to kill the game that they targeted, and were able to secure high quality food resources more frequently and regularly.”

The study is published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE. The detailed study paper can be accessed at*


* Wilkins J, Schoville BJ, Brown KS (2014) An Experimental Investigation of the Functional Hypothesis and Evolutionary Advantage of Stone-Tipped Spears. PLoS ONE 9(8): e104514. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104514

Source: Adapted and edited from a PLOS ONE news release: Stone-tipped spears more damaging than sharpened wooden spears


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