A study of some of Europe’s oldest hunting bows suggests that 7,000 years ago, early farmers were mostly using them just for fun.
Hmm. So how do you tell whether people were doing something like hunting because they needed to, or because they thought it was fun? That’s a question that’s dogging archaeologists in Spain.
La Draga is an early Neolithic site on the shores of Lake Bayoles in Catalonia, Spain. It was inhabited by early farmers around 7,000 years ago. Much of the site is waterlogged or under water, which means that artefacts made of organic materials are unusually well-preserved.
Among them are three yew bows, all of which have been dated at between 7,400 and 7,200 years old. According to the archaeologists studying them, they are the oldest of their kind found in Europe so far.
Bizarrely, however, having studied the wild animal remains at the site, the archaeologists have suggested that for these early farmers, hunting was probably mostly a social activity. Why? Because they don’t seem to have caught very much with them.
“Comparing the scarce remains of wild animals and the abundant hunting gear found at the site, we conclude that nutrition was not the main aim of developing hunting objects. Neolithic archery could have had a significant community and social role, as well as providing social prestige to physical activity and individuals involved in it,” said researcher Xavier Terradas of the Milá I Fontanals Institution.
These bows provide some great evidence of early Neolithic archery and hunting technology, but they also raise a big question about the social role of hunting in the first farming societies. The question remains, why so little catch? Maybe they were only hunting sporadically, or maybe they were taking aim at something else. Have a guess. Go on, give it your best shot in the comments below.