Big Game Hunt With Tusk Spears Mammoth ivory used as a raw material for hunting weapons

Related Articles

Related Articles

For the first time, scientists from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and the Senckenberg Research Station for Quaternary Palaeontology Weimar conducted a detailed comparison of the mechanical properties of mammoth ivory from the Siberian permafrost soils and the ivory from modern African elephants.

In their study, published today in the journal “Scientific Reports”, the team of scientists shows that, due to its exceptional material properties, the mammoth ivory was ideally suited for the manufacture of Ice Age hunting weapons – a fact that was also taken advantage of by big game hunters during the Paleolithic in Central Europe.

Spiral-shaped tusks of varying sizes are certainly the most impressive and visible characteristic of the mammoths. These proboscids, which became extinct with the disappearance of the Ice Age mammoth steppe, used their permanently growing tusks with a length of up to 3.5 meters and a weight of sometimes over 100 kilograms as a status symbol and a weapon, but also as a tool, e.g., to break open frozen watering places. Grooves and facets on the surface of the Ice Age giants’ teeth are evidence of their powerful use, which frequently caused the tusks to splinter, yet only rarely led to broken teeth.

 

“It required particular mechanical properties to allow growing teeth of such an imposing length. After all, about two thirds of the tusks freely extended from the upper jaw, thus being directly subjected to the animals’ highly dynamic body motions. We were curious to understand the exact workings behind this,” says Prof. Dr. Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke of the Senckenberg Research Station for Quaternary Paleontology in Weimar, explaining the purpose of the joint interdisciplinary project.

During the last Ice Age, people used mammoth ivory to produce tools and jewelry as well as amazing pieces of art – the latter can be found, among others, in the recently designated UNESCO World Heritage Site “Caves and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura.” “We noticed that at different times and in various parts of the world mammoth tusks had also been used to manufacture weapons, especially perfectly crafted spear tips. We wondered why the Ice Age hunters used this particular raw material. The material does not lend itself to easy processing, and antlers or bones of other Ice Age animals were much more readily available,” says Dr. Sebastian Pfeifer, an archaeologist at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and the study’s initiator. He continues: “Together with materials scientists from the University in Jena, we therefore measured numerous structural and mechanical properties of non-weathered mammoth ivory and compared the data with those from the ivory of African elephants.”

The results show that the composition and mechanical properties of mammoth ivory from the Ice Age permafrost and ivory from the tusks of African elephants are practically identical. The exceptional dental material is characterized by an ideal combination of rigidity and toughness. During the cold periods in the Ice Age, ivory was therefore a perfect raw material for the manufacture of hunting weapons, particularly for highly effective projectile tips.

Moreover, compared to other Ice Age materials such as reindeer antlers, the pearly-white mammoth ivory has a much higher esthetic appeal. “Perhaps the carriers of ivory weapons during the Ice Age displayed their shiny equipment with a measure of pride. It is quite possible that the material thus began to be seen as a status symbol as well,” according to the researchers’ speculations.

Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum

Header Image – Projectile tips made of mammoth ivory (long tip) and a reindeer antler from the Early Paleolithic cave site Garsitz-Bärenkeller (Thuringia). Photo: H. Arnold, Thuringian State Office for Preservation of Monuments and Archeology, Weimar

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

The Varangian Guard – When Vikings Served the Eastern Roman Empire

The Varangian Guard was an elite unit that served as the personal bodyguards for the emperors of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).

Walking, Talking and Showing Off – a History of Roman Gardens

In ancient Rome, you could tell a lot about a person from the look of their garden. Ancient gardens were spaces used for many activities, such as dining, intellectual practice, and religious rituals.

Curious Kids: How did the First Person Evolve?

We know humans haven’t always been around. After all, we wouldn’t have survived alongside meat-eating dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus rex.

Ring-like Structure on Ganymede May Have Been Caused by a Violent Impact

Researchers from Kobe University and the National Institute of Technology, Oshima College have conducted a detailed reanalysis of image data from Voyager 1, 2 and Galileo spacecraft in order to investigate the orientation and distribution of the ancient tectonic troughs found on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede.

Tracing Evolution From Embryo to Baby Star

Astronomers using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) took a census of stellar eggs in the constellation Taurus and revealed their evolution state.

“Woodhenge” Discovered in the Iberian Peninsula

Archaeologists conducting research in the Perdigões complex in the Évora district of the Iberian Peninsula has uncovered a “Woodhenge” monument.

New Fossil Discovery Shows How Ancient ‘Hell Ants’ Hunted With Headgear

Researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Chinese Academy of Sciences and University of Rennes in France have unveiled a stunning 99-million-year-old fossil pristinely preserving an enigmatic insect predator from the Cretaceous Period -- a 'hell ant' (haidomyrmecine) -- as it embraced its unsuspecting final victim, an extinct relative of the cockroach known as Caputoraptor elegans.

New Algorithm Suggests That Early Humans and Related Species Interbred Early and Often

A new analysis of ancient genomes suggests that different branches of the human family tree interbred multiple times, and that some humans carry DNA from an archaic, unknown ancestor.

Popular stories

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.

The Real Dracula?

“Dracula”, published in 1897 by the Irish Author Bram Stoker, introduced audiences to the infamous Count and his dark world of sired vampiric minions.