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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 2:08 pm    Post subject: ¿Whatever happened to the spearthrower?         Reply with quote

or throwing stick, the arm extension that greatly enhances the thrust applied to a thrown spear?

Those were at one time known all over the world, on every continent. WHY was it SO important for the hunt and WHY did it NOT feature in warfare?? This is not counting the relatively (in the age of modern fire-arms!) efficient use by the australian aboriginal people against the white invaders.

To me it is just as baffling as to why the bow that seems to have been invented in NW-Africa was forgotten there by the time warfare became important. The spear, javelin was still around but neither the throwing stick nor the bow were.

Peter
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John Cooksey




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 2:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It was important for hunting because it greatly increased range/velocity/kinetic energy for the thrown spear. Equally important for warfare until the bow and arrow were invented. Bows replaced the atlatl and dart because of their greater range, accuracy, and rate of fire.
The atlatl and dart *did* survive as a weapon of war in Mesoamerica *after* the widespread adoption of the bow and arrow, largely because it became associated with a certain class of professional/ceremonial/noble warriors.

Don't know much about Northwest Africa, but in Northeast Africa (The Nile Valley and its environs), both the throwing stick and the bow were used for hunting from the Paleolithic until the early Bronze Age (Early Dynastic period in Egypt, and even later).

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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 3:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

John Cooksey wrote:
It was important for hunting because it greatly increased range/velocity/kinetic energy for the thrown spear. Equally important for warfare until the bow and arrow were invented. Bows replaced the atlatl and dart because of their greater range, accuracy, and rate of fire.


Right.
The bow did NOT replace the spear-javelin. The thrown spear, the javelin however is heavier than the dart.
So basically this would mean that in an age that javelin-spear survive next to the bow these two have complementary range-velocity-kinetic energy on the battle-field leaving out the atlatl and dart?!

I can, up to a point, understand this. However..... why then did the bow, after all, invented VERY early, some 20K years ago not overrule the atlatl-dart way earlier? Or was is against MAN, in battle, that the optimium THIS combination gave was not needed?

NW-Africa must be something in its own right. Things seem to have added up a bit differently there for a looooong time (and maybe they still do).

Peter
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 7:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

We need more information on atlatl projectiles. Are we basically looing at big arrows, or small javelins? Now, it's worth noting from a soldier's perspective, the javelin is a stand alone piece of equipment, which one basically picks up and throws. The Bow and the Atlatl have to be 'loaded and discharged' both are a two hand thing to do. So in the context of the Romans and others of the time, a javelin could be used with a shield in the other hand, whereas a bow or an atlatl would need loading with the other hand.

Also, I can see a the atlatl using light weight 'arrow-like' projectiles, with less accuracy then the bow, and less pure impact then say, the pilum. The pilum was a (relatively) heavy javelin, and whilst it might not have the range or accuracy of the bow, a volley would hit a shield wall much harder due to pure mass and shield penetration.

As such, the atlatl could be considered to lack the force of a 'heavy' javelin, and one could say that when looking at on target effects, the bow was a superior launching platform.



But of course, I have so little information on atlatl projectiles that all of the above is subject to review by those with more information.


EDIT: Oh, as to why the bow did not take over sooner, you might be looking at local areas. Most cultures with bows are not shown using the atlatl as well, though there maybe be a few exceptions.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Matthew K. Shea




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 8:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not that I'm an expert on the atlatl, but one reason it might have been replaced, especially in organized warfare, is that (I assume) it takes more room to use effectively than a bow. This would be a very important factor to consider when fighting in close ranks.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 8:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One could also throw in the use of the sling along side the bow or instead of the bow by some cultures.

Slings using lead projectiles could have greater maximum range than most any bow and in the hands of an expert very accurate at close range.

Using found random rocks would mean less range and accuracy but useful logistically unless fighting in a rockless desert.

With a javelin one could use it as a small spear with a shield or throw it.

From what I have read here in other threads the spear throwers were very effective and impressed the Spanish Conquistadors when fighting the Aztecs.

Maybe as some have suggested the spear thrower was so much a " tweener " between the bow and the javelin that either or both in combination could fill the same " niche " by overlapping range and missile impact.

Culture and tradition can have a random arbitrary effect on what is used and good expertise with one weapon system does create a bias against it's abandonment as a different system, like the bow, will initially mean a reduction of skilful use until those skills catch-up. Also people like Rhodean slingers, renowned because of their skill, wouldn't change over to using bows unless some drastic cultural change or a much better weapons system became available ( Like muskets. )

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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 8:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When Hernando DeSoto explored the SouthEast United States, the native indians were unable to penetrate the plate armour with their bows and arrows (bows described as being as thick as a man's arm.) However, they were did penetrate armour with in a couple of instances with their spears.... The spear thrower was described in at least one instance. Unfortunately for the indians, they had primarily adopted the bow by that time.
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George Hill




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PostPosted: Mon 04 Dec, 2006 9:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
When Hernando DeSoto explored the SouthEast United States, the native indians were unable to penetrate the plate armour with their bows and arrows (bows described as being as thick as a man's arm.) However, they were did penetrate armour with in a couple of instances with their spears.... The spear thrower was described in at least one instance. Unfortunately for the indians, they had primarily adopted the bow by that time.


I've heard that, and I'd be very curious about the speicifics, due to what we know about plate armor. I'd imagine it must have been a very low grade plate.

To abandon your shield is the basest of crimes. - --Tacitus on Germania
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 12:26 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Let us calculate then.

what is the average weight & speed of an arrow
idem javelin
idem atatl & dart

We can then put this kinetic potential in perspective with the speed of use, simplicity, range and techniques.

Peter
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Randall Moffett




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 1:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

If you look at 14th and 15th century sieges but especially naval warfare great fletched javelins or spears are often depicted. In some inventories of shipss I have read I often wonder if some of the spears or other 'common' items are not these items. They would seem fairly effective to me from a castle wall or ships castle,especially the top mid or top castle.
Aside from these it seems they only clung on in Ireland, Spain and a few other places.

RPM
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 6:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Using found random rocks would mean less range and accuracy but useful logistically unless fighting in a rockless desert.


Though rockless deserts themselves are rare, since most deserts have much more rock than sand! (LOL)
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 7:05 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lafayette C Curtis wrote:
Jean Thibodeau wrote:
Using found random rocks would mean less range and accuracy but useful logistically unless fighting in a rockless desert.


Though rockless deserts themselves are rare, since most deserts have much more rock than sand! (LOL)


Exactly my point: Dig almost anywhere and you will find some ammunition ( Rocks ) for your sling.

( Note: Personally I would have every warrior have a sling as emergency survival equipment as a sling weighs almost nothing and is easy to carry around. Assuming at least minimal competence there are a lot of uses for slings. Great to have as a back up for troops having no dedicated missile support should they be harassed by horse archers as one example.)

Sandy deserts being one exception I could think of. Wink I'm sure that chosen missiles of uniform shape or weight would be preferred for accurate use, but for mass long range use common rocks would work in a pinch.

With early cannon I would think rocks would/could be used in an emergency even if they would be very inefficient and probably very bad for the bore of a cannon if used for any extended period through erosion.

Back to the spear thrower: Someone mentioned the space needed to use them compared to the space needed for mass use of archery. I also think that slingers need at least a few feet of space between themselves to be able to use the sling without getting in each other's way.

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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 5:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
When Hernando DeSoto explored the SouthEast United States, the native indians were unable to penetrate the plate armour with their bows and arrows (bows described as being as thick as a man's arm.) However, they were did penetrate armour with in a couple of instances with their spears.... The spear thrower was described in at least one instance. Unfortunately for the indians, they had primarily adopted the bow by that time.


Which account are you referring to? Garcilaso de la Vega did write that the atlatl could fully pierce a man in mail, and that it was the weapon the Spanish feared the most in Peru. But he also has plenty accounts of Amerindian bows piercing mail, and none of plate getting penetrated.

Bernal Diaz, on the other hand, did claim Aztec atlatl darts could pierce any armor. Of course, it's hard to say if he meant for plate to be included in that statement.

As far as kinetic energy goes, one modern test got an average of 350 J when using heavy darts. A heavy arrow from 150lb longbow would have only about 150 J. Crossbow bolts probably didn't get much past 200 J.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Tue 05 Dec, 2006 6:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The only text I have read is Charles Hudson's "Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun." This is based on all three accounts (one later account known after the author's town of Elvas was recorded some 14 years after the expedition ended.) The atlatl is mentioned twice in Hudon's book. The bow with stone pointed arrow was also described as piercing a Spaniard's leg mail, going through his leg, through the saddle tree, and approximately 1/3 of the way into a horse's body. The author and index of the book is not interested in the weapons (only references tribes and locations) so I will have to look a long time to find specifically which locality and tribes these accounts correspond to. I am thinking the spear thrower accounts occured near the Missisippi River in what is believed to be Missouri as well as Northern Missisippi/Arkansaw (before DeSoto died.)

The route of the expedition is believed to have passed close to my home (middle Tennessee.) I bought Hudson's book after visiting a local park and museum (Old Stone Fort Park in Manchester Tennessee). The park has a female ranger who gives demonstrations using reproductions of what are believed to be authentic construction (modern built based on artifact finds) of bow and arrow, blow dart, and the spear thrown with atlatl. What some archeologists consider to be true stone arrowheads were very small (thumbnail sized.) Most stone points we would recognize as having significant mass (finger sized) were quite possibly spear heads. When demonstrated, the spear is most convincingly destructive compared to the other native weapons. On the other hand, blow dart is most accurate, and bow was pretty accurate too. Indians were fairly capable of shooting arrows into the eye slits and joints of armour on the De Soto expedition (some of the more skilled and daring ones sniped Spanish targets with guerilla tactics... leading them into the trees, then shooting them when they were unable to charge on horse.)

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Jeroen Zuiderwijk
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 3:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

One point against the atl-atl would be transporting ammo. The darts for the atl-atl are quite a bit larger then arrows, so you don't take them with you in a quiver that easily. So you have to hold them in your hand, and you can't take a whole lot of them with you.

In the case of slings, you can't see the bullits coming, you've got a much larger chance of seeing it comming and running for cover. And of course for a sling, transporting ammo just requires a small bag of bullits.
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 3:47 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
As far as kinetic energy goes, one modern test got an average of 350 J when using heavy darts. A heavy arrow from 150lb longbow would have only about 150 J. Crossbow bolts probably didn't get much past 200 J.

Right, and a javelin would probably as heavy as the thrower could comfortably handle, that is carry and throw. Anybody?

An indicative pointer to the importance of weight is again given by Duarte who stresses this both for spear and lance, the lance NEEDING to be as heavy as the rider could handle safely. This meant it could get heavier as the knight progressed his training.
Although he does not mention this but I assume javelin also were heavier for well trained troops. The roman half iron pilum must have been devastating when thrown.

Now obviously all ballistic weapons need to be effective and thus have range and penetration power but I understand the primairy need for range for the bow and penetration power for the spear.
I am beginning to see that the atalatl probably did not offer sufficiently extra over spear and bow yet had specific disadvantages not shared by either. On the other hand, the effectiveness of the darts also indicate that important reasons for the phasing out will have been convention and pragmatism.

HC
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Peter Bosman




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 3:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeroen Zuiderwijk wrote:
One point against the atl-atl would be transporting ammo.


Good point. Same thing with javelin.
This means you will have to consider the total offensive potential of a warrior too. 60 arrows times 150 joules is worth more than 20 darts. Better to carry less but far heavier spears then AND a bow (or archers)....
The fire power thus becomes a factor next to the tactictal possibilities of a weapon.

I guess the main reason why the numidian light cavalry disappeared with the demise of the roman army because the tactical extra they offered to lesser scale armies was simply to small compaired to the disadvantage in fire-power.
Same applies for the atalatl.

HC
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 4:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anyone have information about the velocity/weight of Roman lead sling bullets ? I would assume a velocity close or even higher than the bow and a mass at least equal or better than a large calibre musket ball: In the 12 gauge or 8 gauge range ?

From what I remember reading but don't remember a specific source, lead sling missiles would pierce flesh and go deep !

Compared to a musket bullet the velocity and kinetic energy would be a lot lower but the mass and momentum could still be high and very effective.

I also vaguely remember that some troops using sling maybe as late as the Napoleonic period where nicknamed as being a kind of " musketeers " because in part because their lead sling pellets were very deadly and their accuracy was much greater than the average musketeer. Regionally I think it could have been Corsica, Sardinia or maybe the Balearic Islands ?

In any case a people with a long tradition of sling use well into the 18th century, but it might be some other than what I mentioned. ( The curse of memory fragments not attached to the memory of the source ! Sad Wink )

( EDITED: Nice article on Wikipedia that mentions sling expertise if you scroll down a bit. The odds are good that this is the right place. I'll edit my post again if I find other sources later. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balearic_Islands )

( EDITED2: A sling Wikipedia article. http://mallorca.costasur.com/en/piedr.html )

( EDITED3: Wikipedia again but an Atlalt article. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlatl )

( EDITED4: A site dedicated to slings. http://www.slinging.org/ Well I'll stop now as anybody really interested should be able to do their own searches. Wink But I hope this is useful for a quick look. )

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Last edited by Jean Thibodeau on Wed 06 Dec, 2006 12:00 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Shane Allee
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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 10:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Being able to post just isn't what it used to be for me, but I have been wanting to post to this topic and thinking about it since it started. Seems to me that one of the biggest factors involved in this topic really hasn't been address yet, and that is the changes in society that were often times happening at the same time.

To me at least the Atlatl, bow and arrow, and the sling were tools that came into use to improve upon the thrown rock and spear for hunting. These tools were then applied to warfare. The Atlatl throws what is very similar really to longer, only slightly larger arrow. It really would have been for hunting a great advancement over a javelin as long as the game wasn't too large or thick of skin, longer distance and greater accuracy like has already been mentioned. Don't know about any in Europe, but I'm pretty sure that there have been quivers found in the Americas for atlatl arrow/darts. Overall there is going to be a high learning curve for accuracy.

The sling still has that high learning curve, but one of the advantages is that it doesn't require specially crafted tools. At least not to the extent of the atlatl anyway. So one of the things that you have happen is that the atlatl would have been more of a tool specifically for hunters. The sling on the other hand would have been something that would have found its way very early on into the hands of children.

With early warfare, in chiefdom or smaller societies, most of the time you aren't going to have large masses of people to make it worth using large numbers of atlatl arrows in volleys worth while. Slings on the other hand are a different matter. Ammunition isn't going to be as big of drain, plus it can be used by the non warrior elite and children who most likely are going to be the most familiar with using it anyway.

When you start getting into State level societies we start getting the large armies that have specific purpose fighters. They also start doing what we see with Rome, and that is pulling in people from smaller societies who have slingers, archers, etc. As the numbers of those people decrease and demand increases, the state level societies have to start training their own warriors. Archers are going to be easier to train then slingers would be since the learning curve isn't as high to effectively use a bow and arrow. Plus once you reach that point, the resources for ammunition shouldn't be as much of a burden as they would have been to smaller level societies.

Another thing that may be of influence is the mentality of warrior elites from smaller societies vs that of soldiers in larger state level societies. If we look at the Celts from the La Tene period, they had bows and used them for hunting. They never seem to have applied it to warfare though. Some of this may have been a result of factors that I already mentioned, but they also had a certain mentality that most likely played a part as well. To them warfare was a very personal thing and a way to gain respect, honor, recognition, etc for acts performed on the battlefield. You don't get that from being one of a bunch of guys shooting a volley of arrows. So I think it is something that would be pretty common when you have warrior elite in a smaller society to have a more personal and self driven style about the warfare.

Shane
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 06 Dec, 2006 12:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Shane Allee wrote:
To them warfare was a very personal thing and a way to gain respect, honor, recognition, etc for acts performed on the battlefield. You don't get that from being one of a bunch of guys shooting a volley of arrows. So I think it is something that would be pretty common when you have warrior elite in a smaller society to have a more personal and self driven style about the warfare.

Shane


I would add that body count and the actual killing would not be the primary motivation and killing with an arrow might be seen more like a murder than a fight deserving praise and fame.

Although for revenge killings the bow might still have been use stealthfully, but again " murder not war ".

In many way this type of warfare where fame and reputation as well as honour is a factor tends to civilize warfare by creating a set of the rules of war a bit in the same way as there are rules to a " proper duel " .

When survival of groups over some limited resource, ideology or religion and where the enemy is dehumanized and not considered as worthy opponents the level of savagery can turn into genocide and entire tribes or peoples could and would be exterminated.

The first type of warfare is a way to acquire status and dominance almost in an intra-species way: Battle between wolves or lions as an example to determine who is the Alpha male or king of the pride. ( Fights end with submission and rarely with the death of the looser. )

The second type of war is more like hunting prey or killing threats where the rules of dominance don't apply and winning or feeding is everything.

A good book I can mention is " War before Civilization. the myth of the peaceful savage ", by Lawrence H. Keeley, © 1996
Oxford University Press. This is were I got the concept of intra-species warfare and it's qualitative difference to predatory warfare. Both of which humans engage in.

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