Annemieke Milks

Lethal Threshold: The Evolutionary Implications of Middle Pleistocene Weaponry

The origins and performance of ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ projectile technologies (e.g. hand-thrown vs. spear-thrown spears) are the focus of current debates on the subsistence strategies, and associated cognitive and physiological abilities of different species of Homo. A proper understanding of the performance characteristics of ‘simple’ wooden spears is essential to the debate on the behavioural comparisons between H. sapiens and earlier species of Homo. Inherent in this debate are assumptions about the inferiority of ‘simple’ weapon systems, based on estimates of how these technologies perform. Evaluating these assumptions is critical to understanding Middle Pleistocene hunting behaviours, as is identifying the point at which there is a clear archaeological signature of the use of weapons for interpersonal violence or predation.

My key research questions are:

  1. What are the performance characteristics of ‘simple’ wooden thrusting and hand-thrown spears?
  2. How do the two weapon systems compare with each other, and to ‘complex’ projectile technologies?
  3. What do these data tell us about lethality thresholds, hunting and social behaviours, interpersonal violence, and cognitive capacities of earlier Homo vs. H. sapiens?


Experimental work will take place alongside ballistics experts, using facilities at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. Experiments proposed will follow rigorous protocols deemed acceptable for military ballistics research, in order to provide benchmark data on ‘simple’ spear performance. The series of experiments will involve replicas of archaeological examples, as well as elite javelin throwers and other experts.

Data on design, measurement, and impact damage will be collected by studying wooden and faunal artifacts from the European Middle Pleistocene. Data collected from experiments and archeological specimens will be compared with those from literature.

Funding organisation

  • AHRC


 Educational background

  • BM, Violin Performance, University of Michigan, 2000
  • MM, Violin Performance, Carnegie Mellon University, 2002
  • MSc, Palaeoanthropology and Palaeolithic Archaeology, UCL, 2010

Pope M., Dinnis R., Milks A., Toms P., Wells C. 2013. A Middle Palaeolithic to Early Upper Palaeolithic succession from an open air site at Beedings, West Sussex. Quaternary International.

Milks, A., Dinnis, R., Pope, M. Morpho-metric Variability Of Early Gravettian Tanged “Font-Robert” Points, And Functional Implications. In Iovita, R., & Katsuhiro, S.(Eds.) Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Stone Age Weaponry. New York: Springer: In Press.

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