As survivalists, the worst-case scenario is what people around the world plan for every day. But most never consider what would happen if all the “stuff” they’ve prepared—guns, axes, knives, saws, tents—was unavailable. Our early ancestors lived in that world. No modern conveniences, no gadgets or gizmos—just some innovative thinking and guts. Their brains and abilities to reason, problem-solve and rationalize allowed them to think past their incapacities of speed, camouflage and claws to create weapons. These primitive weapons were designed to gain the necessary speed, use stealth and deliver death with every blow. Primitive weapons marked our existence as contenders in a hostile and violent world. Let’s look at a few of these simple but effective weapons our ancestors created to gain the survivor’s edge that provided them the evolutionary advantage to outlast their opposition.
The club is considered one of the oldest weapons still in use. In simple forms, a club could be a thick stick, branch, rock, bone or antler that you swing to hit your intended target. At face value, the club seems a little simple and pointless, but let’s look at what it can really do. A club held in the hands of a skilled user could quickly dispatch a wounded prey animal with precision while avoiding vital organs, damage to which would potentially spoil the meat or alert predators to a fresh kill. A club can delicately crack open shelled creatures like crabs, snails and mussels. It’s an excellent lightweight weapon that most people, both modern and primitive, would be able to master quickly. It is also silent and accurate, allowing for the element of surprise and maintaining stealth.
As far as close-quarters weapons are concerned, the club is excellent in that it allows for precision strikes to an objective target, creating blunt-force trauma. Even today’s police forces carry a type of club in the form of a baton or night stick. Riot police carry long batons and clubs to quell unruly rioters, and they’ll demonstrate the effectiveness of such weapons if rioters venture too close.
History has shown us that culture, geography and resources will influence club designs and capabilities. Most of our early ancestors made clubs out of hard woods, some with little thought put into the design. If it was heavy, could be wielded in defense or used to kill, it was a club. Pacific Islanders made war clubs with sharks’ teeth attached to inflict maximum damage against warring islands. Native Americans used tree limbs with hard, knotted wood at one end and stones wrapped with rawhide placed on the other end as effective war clubs.
The Throwing Stick
That’s correct. It’s a stick, and you throw it. When compared to the club, the throwing stick allowed our early ancestors to create a short-range weapon with killing capabilities. The throwing stick goes by many names: rabbit stick, throwing club, non-returning boomerang (NRB), Kylie, Hopi and more. Basically, every culture from our early ancestors to modern-day peoples had a version of the throwing stick.
Looking at the most common types of throwing sticks, a few design characteristics and capabilities remain the same. All throwing sticks, aside from modern versions that are made of plastics and metals, were made of wood of various qualities. For accurate, long-range aerodynamic flight, a throwing stick with a flat, smooth bottom, beveled edges and a rounded top performs best. Throwing sticks with a slight curvature to them fly exceptional well; however, throwing sticks that are straight with at least one end having a greater mass than the other can perform just as well. Length is dependent on resources and user preference, but a good rule of thumb is that the throwing stick tips should touch the user’s wrist and armpit. This length applies to both curved and straight sticks.
The weights of throwing sticks differ based on the intended target and user. A heavy throwing stick hurled at the legs of a running deer have the capability to break bones or cause a trip, rendering the deer immobile and allowing for a killing strike with a club. A light throwing stick can kill small game like rabbits, birds and squirrels. No matter what, the user must be able to manipulate the throwing stick with accuracy and lethality for maximum effectiveness.
The Stone Sling
The stone sling has a uniquely legendary history. From the biblical tales of David and Goliath to the Balearic slingers who were raised to be deadly marksmen from an early age, the importance of stone slings (also called shepherd’s slings) cannot be understated. These tools were the beginning of long-range weaponry for our early ancestors. Slings were once believed to have first appeared around the same time that bows and arrows were being created, but more recent archaeological finds around the world show that slings predate the bows of the past.
A stone sling can be crafted in various styles, but three basic components exist in every sling. The first common feature is a finger loop through which the user will insert one or multiple fingers to hold the sling. Second, every sling will have a pouch or cradle to hold the projectile. Pouches could be made of leather, woven cordage or other fibrous material, and they can be split, open, woven or netted based on the user’s preference. The last basic component is the release knot that is tied to the end of the sling and allows the user to hold the sling end and release once the projectile has flown.
Slinging takes practice, and it’s important to find the technique that works best for you. The most basic is the helicopter technique, where the user swings the fully loaded sling around his or her head and then discharges the release knot toward the intended target. When choosing the right stone, round river stones about the size of a golf ball are best. However, slings can be built to throw stones the size of baseballs if needed.
In an emergency or survival situation, it’s easy to create a spear. Early man used spears nearly every day, both as defensive and offensive weapons. The most common type of spear was a thrusting spear, which was heavy, large and rugged. They were meant to thrust a razor-sharp stone point or a fire-hardened wooden shaft into the intended target. Spears came in different lengths based on resources, but the longer the spear, the more distance was created between user and target. Spears were easy to make, replace and utilize, but they required the intended user to be up close and personal with the target.
A single spear against a target is effective, but several spears against a target means death and a meal. Spears can be thrown a short distance, but they were best utilized in a violent thrusting action. An often-overlooked method of spear employment was the dead-fall: several primitive men thrusting and yelling at a large animal, attempting to get the creature to rise on its hind quarters only to come back down with several spear-wielding men beneath it. The weight of the mega-fauna falling on the spears would kill it. Spears were also used to drive single animals and herds over cliffs or down ravines where they would fall to their death.
The history of the spear traces from our early ancestors all the way up to more modern uses, such as the employment of bayonets that act as spears in close quarters. Soldiers can thrust, slash and drive the points of their bayonets into their intended targets, wounding or killing them.
The most sophisticated of primitive weapons, the atlatl is a game-changer in an emergency or survival situation. The atlatl is a fingertip-to-elbow-length stick or plank with a handle on one end and a hook or spur on the other that is designed to throw a dart with great accuracy over distance.
While the atlatl is commonly called a spear-thrower, it doesn’t actually throw spears—it throws long arrows that are referred to as darts. The atlatl is an extension of the arm that provides a mechanical advantage to the user when throwing a dart. It’s typically made of wood with several variations in style based on the thrower’s preference, but three parts will always exist: the handle, shaft and spur.
Darts can be anywhere from 5 to 7 feet in length, but the user and the intended target will dictate the required length. Most darts that call for longer and more accurate flight will be fletched, while others used for close quarters like spearing fish may lack fletching, instead relying on the long, straight shaft of the dart for accuracy.
Our early ancestors used the atlatl to hunt mega-fauna, and it was a key weapon in Aztec culture where the term atlatl, meaning “water thrower,” comes from. The atlatl flourished as a hunting tool that allowed users to hunt prey animals at a greater distance with stealth and surprise. Several atlatl-wielding men targeting the same prey animal through coordinated hunting tactics increased the odds of a successful hunt.
Before A Disaster
Our early ancestors may have not have had claws, fangs or wings, but they had developed brains that allowed them to create a competitive advantage in the harsh world they lived in thousands of years ago. Today, if you consider yourself a survivalist, prepper or outdoorsman and you haven’t yet made and utilized primitive weapons, you may want to rethink your next training session or bug-out plans. Understanding how primitive tools are resourced, made and employed can make the difference between survival and demise in an emergency. In this high-tech world, we should be able to go low tech or even “primitive tech” to survive and thrive.
For up to 72 hours after disaster strikes, you'll need a host of gear...
by Jay Pinsky / Mar 4, 2019