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Weapon Projectiles; Throwing Spears, Bow & Arrow, Crossbow, Blowgun, Firearms & More

Man has developed many tools for survival. Some of these tools have been called weapons for both substance and defense. Through the ages, standoff projectile weapons were preferred. Nobody wanted a one on one with a short-faced cave bear. Better to take out that saber-tooth from a distance. The progression of projectile weapons was probably something like thrown rocks, spears, slings, bows and then cross bows and finally guns. They each operate a little differently. Rocks and slings are blunt force weapons, used to cause injury by impact. Bop ‘em hard enough on the head and they will go down. Back then there were no prepared ranges to practice on but like the modern gun carrier practice was essential to effectiveness. Another series of weapons that were thrown are sticks, boomerangs, clubs and axes. The throwing axe was a favorite weapon of the Franks, the Germanic for runners of the French, the weapon was called the francisca.

Throwing Spears

The first spears where not projectile weapons but where used for stabbing up close and personal. The Neandertals were not throwers but stabbers. Denser musculature made them effective ambush hunters. It follows that the contemporary modern humans used spears in the same way. No one knows when throwing a spear became a tactical method of hunting or defense. The spear kills not due to energy transfer as it penetrates the body with a sharp head that cuts through arteries, veins and nerves. Spears, however, are large and heavy. Maybe a throwing spear for initial engagement with a shorter spear for closeup engagements, hunting and defense. The Zulus where effective spearmen, both stabbing and throwing. So, two or three at most where carried and probably no more than two optimized for throwing. A common improvement was the spear thrower or woomera so called by the Australian Aborigines. This accessory helped to increase the range dramatically. If heavy enough it could double as a close combat weapon.

Bow, Arrow & Crossbow

We don’t know when man first tapped into stored energy in a wooden limb and used it with a string to propel an arrow, but bows have been around a very long time and were in use before historic times. Bows had range, and the arrow had sufficient velocity to penetrate deeply allowing the arrowhead to cause cutting damage to muscle, arteries, veins and nerves. The bow has remained as a weapon of choice for many cultures down to modern times and is still in use in many remote places in the world. Crossbows increased power at the cost of volume of fire. Slower but with range and penetration power. It was easier to train a crossbowman versus a long bowman.


As an aside when will mention the blow pipe or blow gun. A small usually poison laden dart provides projectile standoff with the advantage of toxin, early form of biological or chemical warfare.


About the late 14th or early 15th century we see the first firearms entering use in Europe. For the first time man had a weapon that did not depend on his own strength to power it. It captured the chemical reaction of a fuel and oxidizer to provide explosive, rapidly expending gas to push a projectile that depended on energy transfer to the target, and even penetration of armor. The first projectiles were rock or arrows. Eventually the rock was smoothed into balls as the sphere is more aerodynamical effective for more accurate shooting. Lead projectiles in the form of spheres or balls where next. The elongated bullet was introduced into combat fired from rifled guns in the mid 1800’s in time for the US Civil War and in Europe the Crimean War. Then was the Miniè Ball. The Miniè ball was an elongated and hollow based lead projectile that revolutionized warfare. Longer range, hard hitting and faster reload times translated into the devastation of the Civil War battlefields.

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