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Sticks and Stones #2: The Birth and Destination of Human Weaponry
When we think of primitive, we think of the Stone Age because stone survives. But it is highly likely that in most cases in which a human first picked up a weapon that it was a stick. Or, in all probability, as shown in the science-fiction movie 2001 a Space Odyssey, what was first snatched up as a weapon was a bone or another remaining hard object of a kill, such as a horn, tusk or antler. Such items share more characteristics with sticks than with stones, including density and manageable length.
Little boys, such as myself, and the little ones I have observed, tend to pick up sticks, something that extends their reach of touch.
Chimpanzees have been observed using sticks to flail at each other and at leopards.
The immediate problem with a stick is that it lacks impact relative to its size.
For this reason—lack of forensic qualities, sticks which have not been improved for grip, weighted for striking or otherwise rendered into a baton or club, are legal to carry in most U.S. municipalities.
The first three actions that result from this are:
-Heavier sticks, weighted on the striking end, are chosen and trimmed for use as clubs.
-Smaller sticks are selected for throwing.
-Longer sticks are selected for defensive use and sharpened as spears.
What we have here is the beginning of three weapons trajectories.
Clubs include picks, adzs and other sticks chosen for their impact characteristics as well as oars and paddles. For instance, the first tool I made from a stick as a boy, was a pick, by using the broken root of a petrified sapling as the pick end and the length of the trunk remaining as the handle. Eventually the club category gives birth to slashing swords. The modern machete is the most used child of this trajectory currently extant. The club also provides the inspiration for the axe. Clubs remained so valuable in warfare that Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands would even craft war clubs out of rifle and musket stocks.
Throwing sticks become boomerangs, darts and javelins and are increasingly propelled with innovations such as the atlatl, the bow and crossbow, the mechanical siege engine, gunpowder and rockets. Cruise missiles, sparrow missiles, side-winder missiles all come from the throwing stick.
The spear is the first improved pole arm, being a pole with a sharpened point. It will give rise to the most used family of weapons in ancient warfare as well as numerous agricultural tools. It is also the device most likely first married with the stone and fated to maintain its relevance the longest in the form of the socket bayonet on the battle rifle, the rifle essentially being a stick modified to throw stones with a chemical agent rather than by mechanical means.
Stones are next.
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