Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Schöningen - Archaeozoological Research

The aim of the research project is to get insight in the biostratigraphical age and the palaeoecological setting of the Schöningen sites and hominin behavior and subsistence during the late Lower Palaeolithic.

1992  -   2025
Matthijs van Kolfschoten
Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege
Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony Ministry for Science and Culture of Lower Saxony
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

The Niedersächsisches Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (NLD) (Prof. dr. Thomas Terberger a.o.)

Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Schloss Hohentübingen, 72070 Tübingen, Germany (Prof. Dr. N. Conard &. Dr. J. Serangeli)

Natural History Museum London, Department of Earth Sciences (Dr. S.A. Parfitt & Dr. S.M. Bello)

Institute of Archaeology, University College London (Dr. S.A. Parfitt)

Short abstract

The locality Schöningen (Germany) yielded a series of sites with a huge number exceptionally well preserved archaeozoological remains that offer the possibility to study hominin behavior and subsistence during the late Lower Palaeolithic. The fossil remains indicate that for example several horses have been skinned and butchered and the marrow of the long bones have been exploited. Marks on the bones show, in addition, that many larger mammal bones have been used for flint knapping and/or as bone hammer.

Project description

The locality Schöningen (Germany) is an important source of knowledge about Lower Palaeolithic hominin subsistence. The locality includes a series of sites dated to the late Middle Pleistocene with a Holsteinian (MIS 11) and Reinsdorf Interglacial (MIS 9) age. One of the youngest sites is Schö 13 II-4, the Spear Horizon site also known as the Horse Butchery site. The organic remains excavated here are exceptionally well preserved as they were embedded in anaerobic, waterlogged sediments in an area where the groundwater is rich in calcium carbonate. The fossil assemblage is ideal for the study of patterns in hominin interference with the mammalian species encountered at the site.

Prof. dr. Thijs van Kolfschoten, archaeozoologist at the Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University was invited to become member of the Schöningen research team in 1992 because of his expertise and the available facilities and collections at the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology. He and his (Phd)students investigated in the past decades thousands of finds. In addition, the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology organises every year a field school for students in order to collect remains of smaller vertebrates, relevant for more detailed biostratigraphical and palaeoecological analyses.

Analysis of the faunal remains show that the vertebrate record is extensive and very diverse. The fossil larger carnivore guild of the Spear Horizon faunal assemblage includes saber-toothed cat, fox and wolf. Herbivores are represented by an elephant species, two equid species, two rhinoceros species, two cervid species and two large bovid species.

Evidence of hominin interference presents itself as either marks on skeletal remains related to the use of bones as knapping tools or hammers, or as marks that indicate butchering activities, such as skinning, dismembering, defleshing filleting and marrow extraction. The humerus of the saber-toothed cat clearly shows that the bone has been used as a knapping tool. The fossil remains of the other larger carnivores do not show any signs of hominin interference or exploitation. This also applies to the limited number of elephant and rhinoceros remains found at the site. The large horse Equus mosbachensis dominates the larger mammal record and played a major role in hominin subsistence. Marks on the horse bones indicate that a large number of carcasses have been butchered. Traces on the fossil remains of both red deer ( Cervus elaphus)  and the large bovids also indicate exploitation by Lower Palaeolithic hominins. 

The results of archaeological, zoological, botanical and geological research of the past two decades are compiled in a special issue of Journal of Human Evolution (to be issues in December 2015). A unique volume with 20 contributions that presents the palaeogeographical and palaeoecological setting of hominin’s occupation of the area as well as new information on late Lower Palaeolithic hominin behavior.


Specific papers deal with the results of the Archaeozoological research at material from the Schöningen sites.

Kuitems, M., van der Plicht, J., Drücker, D., van Kolfschoten, T., Palstra, S.W.L., Bocherens, H., 2015. Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes of well-preserved Middle Pleistocene bone collagen from Schöningen (Germany) and their palaeoecological implications. JHE, Special Issue Schöningen. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248415000184

Rivals, F.L., Julien, M.-A., Kuitems, M., van Kolfschoten, T., Serangeli, J., Drücker, D., Bocherens, H., Conard, N.C. 2015. Investigation of equid paleodiet from Schöningen 13 II-4 through dental wear and isotopic analyses: Archaeological implications. JHE, Special Issue Schöningen. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248414000840

Serangeli,  J., van Kolfschoten, T., Starkovich, B., Verheijen, I. 2015 (in press). The European Saber-toothed cat ( Homotherium latidens) found in the "Spear Horizon" at Schöningen (Germany). JHE, Special Issue Schöningen.


Van Kolfschoten, T., Buhrs, E., Verheijen, I. 2015 (in press). The larger mammal fauna from the Lower Palaeolithic Schöningen Spear site and its contribution to hominin's subsistence. Journal of Human Evolution.


Van Kolfschoten, T., Parfitt,  S. A., Serangeli , J., Bello, S. M. 2015 (in press). Lower Palaeolithic bone tools from the "Spear Horizon" at Schöningen (Germany). JHE, Special Issue Schöningen.


The excavation at Schöningen will continue the next decade(s) and hence, the research will go on. When the study of an particular assemblage is finished, the excavated (larger) mammal remains will be stored at the Palaeon Research and Experience Centre at Schöningen.