Notable: Ballistic study of hafted points

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Notable paper: 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

Synopsis: Jayne Wilkins and colleagues made a series of stone-tipped and non-stone-tipped pointed spears and shot them into ballistics gel with a calibrated crossbow. The resulting tracks document the increased wound tracks created by sharp stone points.

Important because: Archaeologists have long suggested that the bloodletting power of a hafted spear would make it a deadlier weapon, yet experimental results have been mixed because pointed sticks have deeper penetration. Wilkins and colleagues are able to show that the hafted spears create a larger wound even though they don’t penetrate as far into the flesh.

Waiting for… Ancient humans using Middle Paleolithic-era hunting strategies would sometimes have found themselves in a prolonged and deadly fight with a prey animal. To understand the dynamics of lethal technology, we must go beyond the initial strike to consider the entire encounter. Another aspect of hafted points is that their sharp sides can cause further damage when a prey animal struggles or attempts to run. Or a struggle may break the point within the wound, leaving a shard to damage the prey further but rendering the spear much less useful for repeated strikes. In other words, it’s not obvious how the damage at impact may relate to the overall effectiveness of a spear in Middle Paleolithic hunting strategies.