Neanderthals Hunted with Leaf-Shaped Spears, Archaeologists Say

Archaeologists say they have found a 65,000-year-old leaf point in a cave in the Swabian Jura, Germany.

The 65,000-year-old leaf point from Hohle Fels Cave, Germany. Image credit: University of Tübingen.

The 65,000-year-old leaf point from Hohle Fels Cave, Germany. Image credit: University of Tübingen.

“This discovery represents the first time a leaf point has been recovered from a modern excavation, allowing us to study the fresh find with state-of-the-art methods,” said Professor Nicholas Conard, a researcher at the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment.

“The last time archaeologists in the region recovered such artifacts was in 1936.”

The leaf point was found at the archaeological site of Hohle Fels, a cave in the Swabian Jura of Germany.

The artifact is 7.6 cm (3 inches) long, 4.1 cm (1.6 inches) wide, 0.9 cm (0.35 inches) thick, and has a mass of 28 grams.

“Our results document how the tool was made, used and why it was discarded,” Professor Conard said.

“Thanks to a series of four ESR-dates the find is securely dated to over 65,000 years ago.”

“Until now finds of leaf points were interpreted as belonging to the period between 45,000 and 55,000 years ago — the last cultural phase of Neanderthals in Central Europe,” he added.

“The new results demonstrate that our assumptions about the dating of the cultural groups of the late Neanderthals were wrong and need revision.”

Using detailed microscopic analyses, the researchers found that the leaf point was mounted on a wooden shaft.

“Damage to the tip indicates that the artifact was used as a hafted spear point, and that the spear was likely thrust into prey rather than being thrown,” they said.

“Neanderthals used plant-based glue and bindings made from plant fibers, sinew, or leather, to secure the leaf point to the spear.”

“They clearly used the spear for hunting. While they re-sharpened the tool it broke, leading to its discard.”

“Neanderthals were expert stone knappers and knew exactly how to make and use complex technologies combining multiple parts and materials to produce and maintain deadly weapons,” said Dr. Veerle Rots, a researcher at the University of Liège.

“Homo heidelbergensis used sharpened wooden spears for hunting too, but their spears lacked mounted stone points like those used by Neanderthals.”

The team’s results appear in two papers in the journal Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg and the journal Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte.


Nicholas J. Conard & Alexander Janas. Ausgrabungen im Hohle Fels: Fundschichten aus dem Mittelpaläolithikum und Neues zur Jagdtechnik der Neandertaler. Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg 2020: 60-65

Veerle Rots et al. 2021. A Leaf Point Documents Hunting with Spears in the Middle Paleolithic at Hohle Fels, Germany / Eine Blattspitze belegt die Jagd mit Speeren im Mittelpaläolithikum am Hohle Fels, Deutschland. Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte 30: 1-28


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