Imagine prehistoric humans without weapons. In an era when getting eaten alive was a daily possibility, our ancestors would have had made very easy prey.
Our ancient forbears soon discovered that banding together in tribes raised their chances of survival significantly. There really is strength in numbers.
They also found out there is even greater strength in invention. Early hominid species would flee to the treetops to avoid large animals on the forest floor. They would then throw down fruit or branches to drive predators away.
This type of behavior can be seen even today in our closest hominid relative, the chimpanzee. Chimps have also been observed using crudely trimmed branches as a sort of jabbing tool they can insert in hiding places of smaller simians.
It would not have taken our clever ancestors much trial and error to learn that rocks could be employed as projectiles to ward off predators, too. They would also find that fire-sharpened branches from a previous night’s lightning strike were useful for throwing, jabbing and stabbing.
Rudimentary wood and rock weapons used for protection would be refined throughout the Stone Age to become spears, clubs and flint knives intended for hunting. The purpose of weaponry began shifting from defense to offense in nature.
Although cavemen are often depicted as hunting with what resemble crude javelins, they were actually much more sophisticated in their weaponry by 50,000 B.C. For example, the one-ball "bola" was a rock with a leather cord or thong attached. It could be thrown with incredible accuracy and velocity over great distances. Two-ball, three-ball and multi-ball bolas evolved from this as entanglement devices used for hunting small game.
By 40,000 B.C., long before David allegedly slew Goliath, the sling had been invented, allowing a stone to be shot at a target with force and speed sufficient to kill, stun or maim at a distance.
Paleolithic remains in Europe and North America from between 30,000 and 12,000 B.C. indicate the hunting device of choice was a relatively short stone-tipped dart . It was hurled not by hand but by using an "atlatl"—a kind of wooden sling or "spear thrower"—to give the projectile greater velocity and penetrating efficiency.
Ancient cave paintings in Spain dating back to 10,000 B.C. show men fighting with bows and arrows. The invention of more effective weapons such as these, as well as the forging of bronze or iron swords, spearheads and arrowheads turned the once practically defenseless humans into top hunters and conquerors.
Although it is not known exactly when humans began turning their hunting tools against themselves, clearly the great majority of weapons in the world today are no longer intended for defense against carnivores or to hunt for food. Nevertheless, we still celebrate the skillful use of weaponry by incorporating the devices of old into our modern sports.
The javelin, the hammer and the discus simulate the projectile weapons of battle. Archery and fencing are also examples of fine martial arts that evolved from the development of deadly weapons. Perhaps we can look forward to a day when handguns will become relics used mainly for marksmanship. Time will tell, of course, even as newer and more powerful weapons continue to be developed.
Alfablue, October 2012