The most prestigious choice of weapon for hand-to-hand combat among the people of New Guinea was once a bone fashioned from a human femur. Not only was this fierce weapon a symbol of high social status – it was found to be a superior blade by researchers from Dartmouth College.
Anthropologists recently ran a series of intensive tests on daggers made from human bones comparing them to another common bone weapon used by New Guinea warriors – blades fashioned from cassowary bones. A cassowary is a large flightless bird native to the jungles of New Guinea.
Known for their aggressive behavior towards humans, it also seems that New Guinea societies used to raise, capture, and event gift cassowaries.
The Differences Between the Human and Bird Blades Used by the New Guinea Warriors
By all measures, weapons made from human femurs produced more lethal results than those from animal bones. They were an extremely effective weapon for severing arteries, but could also be used as a lever with which to thrust, twist, and puncture the neck of an opponent.
Perhaps even more important than providing a tactical advantage to its user, human bone weapons were an important marker of prestige among those who possessed them. The femur daggers recovered by anthropologists are veritable works of art. They are carved with symbols and decorations meant to relay significant cultural meanings.
The decorative nature of daggers made from human bones points to the importance of what scientists call the “signaling theory.”
This is a concept within social and biological sciences that denotes methods to transmit underlying traits with adaptive value. In short, a fancy, tricked-out weapon signaled to others that its owner was a person to be reckoned with.
The authors of the study published their results in a paper in the journal of the Royal Society Open Science. The lead author and researcher of the project is Dartmouth College’s Nathaniel J. Dominy. He called the human femur weapons, “fierce-looking, beautiful and formidable.”
New Guinea warriors and their weapons made from human bones and cassowary bones were first introduced and presented to the world by a German anthropologist, Leonhard Schultze-Jena, in 1914.
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