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Source in Spanish: Attach:HonderoNeolitico.pdf

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The atlatl appeared in the Upper Paleolithic, and it became the king of the weapons that have left their mark in this period. This light, thrown weapon would evolve from the spear or javelin, heavier and perhaps already in use for throwing at the end of the Middle Paleolithic. The atlatl was thrown with a launcher, a type of stick at whose tip the atlatl was attached and with which it was projected in the manner of a lever. The atlatl was the hunting weapon of choice for this period and the only one that appears in the masterful cave paintings. Of the sling, there is no trace anywhere in pictographs, which are full of scenes of animals that are sometimes shown with wounds from a multitude of atlatls.

From this, we can not conclude that the sling disappeared at this time, not if we turn to the significance of the pictographs. In them, one does not look for a representation of realistic scenes, nor for the most important and epic, but rather this art seems to have a symbolic character, despite its naturalistic style: a mythological character in which the figures represented hold a significance that transcends the mere reality of the scene. As such, it is worth noting that, in a greater sense, what predominates are the figures of bison and horses with such animals as bear, cave-dwelling lions, mammoths, deer and elk, etc.; and, in terms of the smaller animals, they almost never appear.

And there is no relationship between the animals they hunted - whose bones appear in the caves - and the animals represented on their walls.

In contrast, an atlatl can be depicted, unlike a sling projectile which would be the only thing that would fit in the paintings, since the figure of the hunter as such never appears, nor the launcher of the atlatls nor the sling.

It is not improbable, therefore, to think that the sling would continue to be used, destined for the minor hunts and the atlatl for the major ones.

Thus, one use is explained for the famous “staff of command,” or holed sticks of this period, which some authors consider very widespread. These bone shafts, beautifully decorated, were interpreted initially as ritual sticks, as objects of prestige due to their artistic decoration; however, notice the wide hole at the end, which also shows signs of use. Their supposedly main function still being that of directing a type of atlatl, perhaps they were used for different purposes, and among those that can not be ruled out is the handle or staff of a sling (2). Their beautiful decoration, which has led to considering them as ritual objects, has to be seen along a continuum of production of high quality objects of ordinary use, that for their value become instruments of prestige and ceremony; so it was in other epochs of diverse weaponry, such as the sword and mace, for example. We must not forget that bone objects have been preserved but not those of wood, the material from which most of the staffs were made. And so, the holed sticks and the bone atlatl launchers, just as other preserved objects, do not represent more than the tip of the iceberg of all Paleolithic production.

If the foregoing hypothesis is true - perhaps it can be verified by detailed studies of the signs of use, such as those achieved by Abbot Glory, disciple of Abbot Breuil and proponent of this theory – this would be prior to the common use of the staff sling in the Late Paleolithic (3).


We are in that period of the incipient appearance of agriculture and livestock, which, however, never excluded the importance of hunting. The care and protection of the flocks would find a suitable application for the Paleolithic hunting weapon, which would come to also be useful to the shepherd.

Ceramic appears here for the first time also, and because of it, the possibility of fabricating a series of the first more or less standardized sling projectiles. This fabrication constitutes the first obvious sign of the use of the sling in prehistoric times. And it is precisely the possibility of standardization of projectiles, and their fabrication and large-scale accumulation, that is the obvious indicator of a new use of the sling: warfare.

Warfare, which might seem foreign to the supposedly peaceful life of these first farmers and ranchers, is a definite reality during the Neolithic Period. A sign of this is the frequent fortification of the settlements. This leads us, without intending to, to reflect upon the origins of war, which, without identifying it with the Neolithic, does in this period give evidence of one of its motives: the surplus of agricultural production, which a particular settlement could store and which would be envied by other, less fortunate, settlements, making it necessary to use fortifications.

On this subject, a seemingly contradictory fact is the well-known Biblical city of Jericho, which was inhabited before the Neolithic, about the year 9,000 BC, before the practice of agriculture and formal animal husbandry, and using hunting as a means of provisioning. However, the settlement was surrounded by a stone wall and a pit eight meters wide and two deep, dug into the rock. Attached to the walls was a tower ten meters in diameter, and from the preserved remains, its height was more than eight meters. There is no doubt that its wealth was not due to the surpluses of agricultural production or livestock, but to some sort of wealth that must have been gained by hoarding so as to permit the advance of a population of about 1,500 hierarchically organized inhabitants, as demonstrated by the fact of the construction of a fence around the grounds of the settlement, which must have occupied some three hectares. Perhaps they practiced trade as a distribution center for the whole region for salt and bitumen from the Dead Sea, or a primitive but fruitful agriculture taking advantage of numerous springs that surrounded the settlement.

At times it has been suggested that the appearance, towards the end of the Paleolithic or in the Epipaleolithic, of new weapons of long range and power, like the bow and the sling, is what made the primitive societies group themselves and protect themselves inside the populated settlements. But we must not forget that this fact of protecting themselves is motivated by the need to defend something envied by others, presumably production surplus. Thus, it is very probably that both factors, new weapons of great power and the development of production, went together in the first walled settlements.

The first Neolithic settlements appear in the Near East, and one of the areas of greatest importance in the Full Neolithic, with widespread use of ceramic, is Anatolia (now Turkey). The settlement of Catal Huyuk is a well-studied site, corresponding to a village of farmers and shepherds who were there by the 7th millennia before Christ. Sheep and goats formed part of their livestock, and they also practiced hunting. From two nearby mountains, the settlement took obsidian, which they used instead of flint for the fabrication of weapons such as daggers, arrowheads, etc. In addition, they traded such precious material throughout the Near East.

The settlement was built with a peculiar defensive structure, the houses standing entirely among themselves, forming a mono-block structure with no doors. Access to the interior of the dwellings was achieved from the roofs, the juxtaposition of which presented a surface that could be traversed for communication between neighbors, including for daily activities. Inside many of these dwellings have been found spectacular wall paintings, the most ancient of their kind, representing animals, people, geometric figures, etc. The significance of these figures continues to be a mystery, although they are usually attributed to a religious, ceremonial end. Frequent is the portrayal of the large vultures that formed part of the funeral customs of the settlement. The bodies were set out near the settlement on elevated platforms, where they were consumed by the vultures. Afterwards, the fleshless bones were buried inside the family home.

On one of these murals, between two large vultures, appears the figure of a slinger, as appears in the fragment shown here. It is the first known artistic depiction of a man whirling a sling (4). The irregular and imprecise drawing is due to the small size of the figure, lost in the complex of the wall.

At the site, large quantities of clay balls have appeared, whose interpretation as sling projectiles, is, however, very much debated (5).

In many Neolithic settlements of Anatolia, there frequently appear mounds of fired-clay sling projectiles. However, the bow almost stands out for its absence. This abundant production and storing of projectiles suggests their employment in warfare. What is more, the preponderance of the sling over the bow in weaponry is no surprise, given that it was much more deadly, and of longer range and accuracy, than the primitive bow.

The Neolithic Period stretched throughout the Mediterranean. In Greece, the ascent of [the village of] Nea Nicomedeia, 60 kilometers to the southwest of Thessalonica, bears interesting signs of the use of the sling. The site, of the early Neolithic, shows an occupation from 3800 to 3500 BC, presenting a settlement of defensive structures. The cultivation of wheat and barley was common, but more abundant seems to have been the raising of sheep and goats. Among the objects found were polished hatchets, flakes of flint, stamps for making drawings, bone needles and fish hooks, and ceramic projectiles of an oval form. However, the arrowheads that were present in the earlier phases of the settlement do not appear, giving evidence of a substitution of the sling for the bow as a weapon (6).

Ceramic projectiles have appeared by the thousands at Neolithic sites, especially in the Mesopotamian area, testifying to the extensive use of the sling in warfare in this era. And a continuity of use exists into the next era, the Calcolithic, being interrupted towards the third millennium with the beginnings of the Bronze Age.

A characteristic phenomenon of the Near East are the so-called “tells,” archeological sites in the form of a mound created by the successive accumulation of construction on the same preferred ground, over a long period, sometimes thousands of years. The new constructions were built over ancient others, leveling the terrain, and thus enlarging the mound, which, upon excavation, presents a structure of archeological strata, or levels, corresponding to the different ages as well as cultures.

The completed excavations at Tell Beydar (Syria) have brought to light important constructions corresponding to a typical city of the third millennium: a circular structure with a double system of fortification. There actually are no signs of sling projectiles at the different levels of occupation corresponding to this period of the early Bronze. However, they do commonly appear at the lower level corresponding to the Calcolithic city of the Ubaid Period. Among the objects found at that level, in addition to the abundant ceramic, are a variety of stone implements, hand grinding mills, ceramic discs and earrings, clay figures and seals, and many sling projectiles, all of the same typical ovoid form (7).


(1) A. Leroi-Gourhan, 1994, Dictionnaire de la Préhistoire (Ver. bola, polyèdre)

(2) A. Leroi-Gourhan, 1994, Dictionnaire de la Préhistoire (Ver. bâton de commandement)

(3) J. Mª Gomez-Tabanera, 1980, La caza en la Prehistoria (2.6. Otras armas o artefactos venatorios) [Hunting in Prehistoric Times; 2.6, Other Weapons or Hunting Artifacts]

(4) According to the interpretation o Arther Ferrill: Los orígenes de la guerra [The Origins of War]

Not having evidence from other drawings of slingers in Catal Huyuc, doubt would fall as to whether this, due to its small size, might represent a man with a bow, or waving a rope or something similar. However, the representations of archers, which are abundant, consistently show a bow of small size, with the strings taut and angular, and never held by the end like this one. In contrast, the posture, although poorly delineated, corresponds with that of a man whirling a sling.

(5) Unfortunately, the archaeological record does not clarify the subject in a definitive way. Great quantities of fired-clay balls have been found, of various shapes and sizes, which were initially interpreted as sling projectiles but today are considered more as objects for different domestic and constructive uses.

The subject of the clay balls is one of the most curious enigmas of Catal Huyuc. They appear all around, in great mounds, and although they are generally spherical, there are other shapes and designs. The largest, up to 9 cm, are baked or charred at high temperatures, and they are assumed to have had a use as heaters or for cooking certain foods. They frequently appear mixed with refuse, which suggests their use in cooking. Most of them are found broken into fragments and often seem like gravel for making bricks of mud and mortar.

The smallest, down to 3 cm, are only sun-dried and always appear whole. This suggests, at first, a use as sling projectiles, given their greater weight with regard to the fired clay, as well as their appropriate size. They are also made of a clay treated with an organic material that does not exist in the place. Thus, it required a treatment prior to that which is available on site. In addition, they contain a lot of sand particles, which give them great hardness. However, there are the smallest ones, down to 1 cm, which are of little use as projectiles.

With regard to the large ones, there are those with simple markings, which suggests a use for counting or making exchanges, for games, etc.

(6) Dormouth [Dartmouth?] College, Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean: Cultures of Thessalia, Crete and the Cyclades

(7) Excavaciones de 1992-1994, Centro Europeo para la alta Mesopotamia y Dirección Gral. de Antigüedades y Museos de Siria. [Central European Excavations of 1992-94 for Higher Mesopotamia and the General Direction of Antiquities and Museums of Syria]

Translation by 4accord

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