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, and in South Africa stone points roughly 500,000 years old that may have been used on thrusting spears have been found. 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.