spear, primitive weapon consisting of a wooden shaft tipped with a sharp point, usually 8 to 9 ft (2.4–2.7 m) in length. The point may be carved from the shaft and hardened in a fire, or made from another material; the oldest non-wood spear tips were of flint, later of bronze, and ultimately of steel. The spear has been in use since prehistoric times, as a missile or thrusting weapon; wooden spears some 400,000 years old have been found at Schöningen, Germany. Spear-throwers, such as the atlatl of the ancient Americas, are hooked sticks that are held in the hand in such a way as to increase the range and force with which a spear can be thrown. From the spears of antiquity the medieval lance and pike evolved. The pike is a long wooden shaft with a steel point that sometimes has a hook on one side. Longer by 2 or 3 ft (61–91 cm) than spears, lances were used by many European cavalry units as recently as the early 20th cent. In a few countries they are still borne in ceremonial military formations, sometimes with a small pennant near the point. Primitive peoples in remote areas still hunt and fight with spears, sometimes putting poison on the tips.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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