The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain/Chapter 18



Passing on from flint arrow-heads and the tools which were probably used in the process of their manufacture, we come to another form of missile weapon—the sling-stone—which also appears to have been in use in Britain. It is needless here to enter into details as to the early use of the sling among the more civilized nations of antiquity, especially as comprehensive articles on the subject have already been published in this country by Mr. Walter Hawkins[1] and Mr. Syer Cuming.[2]

A stone thrown by hand doubtless constituted the first missile weapon, and some form of sling must probably have been among the earliest inventions of mankind. What appears to be the simplest kind, and one which, like Nilsson[3] and Strutt,[4] I frequently used as a boy, consists of a stick split for a short distance down one end, so as to form a cleft, in which a stone is placed; the elasticity of the two halves of the stick, which are kept asunder by the stone, retaining it there until the proper moment for its discharge. Nilsson cites Lepsius as engraving in his great work on Egypt a representation of a man armed with such a sling, which he appears to use very actively in fight. At his feet there is a heap of small stones in readiness for use. Nisson[5] also suggests that it was with such a sling that David was armed when he encountered Goliath, who addresses him: "Am I a dog that thou comest to me with staves?"[6] that is, with the shepherd's staff and the sling handle. The most ancient form, however, recorded by classical writers is that of the ribbon sling, with a central receptacle for the stone, and with strings on either side. The neatly plaited or knitted cup or strap of a sling, with a portion of its cord, both formed of flax, was among the objects discovered in the of Cortaillod,[7] which. was remarkably rich in bronze objects. This probably is the most ancient sling now in existence. The staff-sling reappears in Roman times in a somewhat modified form, with a receptacle for the stone attached to the end of a staff. To this weapon the name of fustibalus was given.

The earliest sling-stones were, no doubt, like those used by David against Goliath, the "smooth stones out of the brook;" but in aftertimes, among the Greeks and the Romans, sling-bullets of an almond or acorn-like form were cast in lead, and flattened ovoid missiles were formed in terra cotta; both kinds, from their uniformity in size, ensuring greater precision of aim than could be secured with stones, however carefully selected, and the former also offering the advantages of less resistance from the air, as well as greater concentration of force when striking the object. Some polished sling-bullets of loadstone or hæmatite are mentioned by Schliemann[8] as having been found on the presumed site of Troy. The advantages of uniformity of size and form are recognized among some savage tribes, who make use of the sling at the present day; the sling-stones, for instance, of the New Caledonians being carefully shaped out of steatite, and, what is worthy of remark, approximating closely in form to the Roman glandes, being fusiform or pointed ovoids. The same form on a larger scale, about 3 inches in diameter and 4 inches long, has been adopted by the natives of Savage Island for missiles thrown by the hand. These are wrought from calc-spar almost as truly as if turned in a lathe.

Nilsson[9] has engraved a sling-stone of this same form, found in Sweden, where, however, they are by no means common, as he cites but five specimens in the museums at Lund and Stockholm.

Artificially-fashioned sling-stones are not, however, confined to this fusiform shape; those that were in use among the Charruas of Southern America having been of a lenticular form, though slightly flattened at the centre of each face. One in my collection is about 3 inches in diameter and 13/8 inches thick in the middle. It has been ground over the whole of both faces, and has the edge at its periphery slightly rounded.

The objects so frequently found in the Swiss Lake-dwellings, and to which the name of sling-stones has been commonly given, were, as Keller[10] has pointed out, probably intended for some very different purpose. Many of the forms described by Sir William Wilde,[11] under the name of sling-stones, may also, I think, be more properly placed in some other category. The carefully polished lenticular disc of flint (Wilde, Fig. 9) seems better adapted for a cutting tool; and the flat oval stones, usually with "a slight indentation, such as might be effected by rubbing with a metal tool," were, as I have already observed, more probably used for obtaining fire, like those of the same class belonging to the early Iron Age of Denmark,[12] which they much resemble in character.
Fig. 350.—Yorkshire Wolds. 1/2
The objects to which in this country the name of sling-stone has been generally applied are more or less roughly-chipped, and approximately lenticular blocks of flint, varying considerably in proportionate thickness, and usually from about 11/2 to 3 inches in diameter. An average specimen from the Yorkshire Wolds is shown in Fig. 350. The contour is frequently more truly circular or oval, and the faces somewhat more carefully chipped. They are found in considerable numbers on the Yorkshire Wolds, in Suffolk, Sussex, and other counties where chalk flints are common. Occasionally also they occur in Scotland.[13] Similar forms are also abundant in the Danish kjökken-möddings and "coast-finds." In this latter case it appears quite as probable that they may have served for net-sinkers as for sling-stones; although, as Sir John Lubbock[14] has remarked, "that some have really served as sling-stones seems to be indicated by their presence in the peat-mosses, which it is difficult to account for in any other way."

Prof. Nilsson[15] objects that they are so irregular and sharp-cornered, "that they would soon wear out the sling, even if it were made of leather." He presumes "that these sharp-cornered stone balls were the first hand-missile weapons of the earliest and rudest savages, and used by them to throw at wild animals or enemies." This objection to regard them as sling-stones seems hardly well founded; especially if we consider them to have been in use with a stick-sling, in which case their angularity would have been of some service in retaining them in the cleft, while their lenticular form adapts them well for this kind of sling. A more valid objection raised by Prof. Nilsson is that no one "would give himself all this trouble to fashion sling-stones which were to be thrown away the next moment, when he could find many natural pebbles quite as suitable." But to this it may be replied, that at the present day we do find the New Caledonians, the Tahitians, and other tribes, carefully fashioning their sling-stones; and also that this flat lenticular form is better adapted for the stick-sling than a natural pebble of the usual oval form. As a fact, however, I think it will be found that these flint discs, to which the name of sling-stones is applied, are most abundant in those districts where natural rolled pebbles happen to be scarce. If the case be really so, we can readily understand why the cores, from which flakes had been struck for conversion into arrow-heads and other instruments, should have been themselves utilized as sling-stones. If these missiles were necessary, it would be a question of which would involve the least trouble, whether to chip into the required form a certain number of flints which came readily to hand, at the same time making use of the resulting chips; or to select and bring together, possibly from a distant sea-coast, a bed of a stream, or some uncovered patch of gravel, a number of pebbles of the right size and form for slinging. In the camp at Hod Hill, near Blandford, which, however, probably belongs to the Early Iron Period, the latter course seems to have been adopted, as several heaps of rounded flint-pebbles, either derived from the sea-coast or from some bed of Lower Tertiary Age, have been found there, and in all probability constituted the munition of the slingers of the camp.

The late Mr. C. Monkman[16] remarked that in Yorkshire he always found the small globular sling-stones most plentiful at a short distance (50 to 200 yards away) from old entrenchments, and he was inclined to class under the head of sling-stones, nodules chipped over their whole surface, varying from an almost globular form to all degrees of flatness, and in size from 1/2 inch to 3 inches in diameter. This is perhaps too wide a definition, as most of the larger globular forms appear to have been destined for hammer-stones; and pebbles but half an inch in diameter would be almost too light for missiles. It is, however, impossible to say with certainty that any given specimen was undoubtedly a sling-stone, as the flatter forms, which were more probably missiles, merge in the form of a roughly-chipped oval celt like Fig. 17 at one end of the series, and in that of a discoidal scraper with a broken edge at the other. Many may be merely cores, from both faces of which flakes have been struck, so that the term "sling-stones," if employed for these roughly-chipped discs, must always be used in a somewhat doubtful sense, and for convenience rather than precision.

In Polynesia,[17] besides rounded pebbles, sharp, angular, and rugged stones were used for slinging. These were called Ofai ara, faced or edged stones.

Fig.351.—Dumfriesshire. 1/2
Another class of objects in stone which may possibly have served for the purposes of the chase or of war, consists of balls with their surface divided into a number of more or less projecting circles, with channels between them. They seem, so far as is known, to be confined to Scotland and Ireland.

That shown in Fig. 351 was found in Dumfriesshire,[18] and has been engraved by Sir Daniel Wilson. It presents six circular faces. Others, almost identical in form, have been found at Biggar,[19] Lanarkshire; Dudwick,[20] Chapel of Garioch[21] and Migvie,[22] Tarland, Aberdeenshire; Kilmarnock,[23] Ayrshire; and Montblairy,[24] Banffshire. Another, about 3 inches in diameter, with three faces only, was found on the Tullo of Garvoch,[25] Kincardineshire; and one, with four faces, in a cairn at East Braikie, Forfarshire. This latter is in the Montrose Museum.[26] One of greenstone, 21/2 inches in diameter, found at Ballater,[27] Aberdeenshire, has six plain circular discs, with the interspaces partially cut into small knobs or studs, the ornaments being possibly in course of formation. Stone balls,[28] about 21/2 and 3 inches in diameter, covered over the surface with small rounded projections, like enormous petrified mulberries, have been found in the Isle of Skye, in Orkney, and at Garvoch Hill, Kincardineshire. I presume the latter to be a different specimen from that with three faces, previously described. Others are in the Perth Museum.[29] A series of such balls, some highly ornamented, has been described by Dr. John Alexander Smith.[30] One formed of hornblende schist, with six strongly projecting circular faces, was found near Ballymena,[31] co. Antrim, in 1850, and is now in the British Museum.

Fig. 352.—Towie.

Probably the most remarkable of all these balls is that shown in Fig. 352, from a cut kindly lent me by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. It was found at Towie,[32] Aberdeenshire, and is about 21/2 inches in diameter, with four rounded projections, three of which are ornamented with different incised patterns, while the fourth is smooth and undecorated. From the character of the patterns, this object would seem to belong to the Bronze Period rather than to that of Stone, if not, indeed, to still later times. In connection with the pattern upon it, attention may, however, be called to the remarkable carved cylinders of chalk found by Canon Greenwell in a barrow on Folkton Wold,[33] Yorkshire, and now in the British Museum, which are certainly not of later date than the Bronze Age. The ornament on a clay vessel found in Devonshire[34] may be compared with that of the sides of the cylinders.

These balls appear to me to differ most essentially from the ordinary "sink-stones" found in Denmark and Ireland,[35] with which they have been compared. It is, however, by no means easy to suggest the purpose for which they were intended. The only suggestions that I have met with are, that they were used in some game or amusement; for defence when slung in a long thong or line[36]; as mace heads[37] attached to a handle; or else for purposes of divination.[38] I must confess that I hardly see in what manner the last purpose can have been served, especially as in most instances all the faces of the ball are alike. Nor do I see in what manner they can have been used in games, though of course it is possible that they were so employed. It seems more probable that they were intended for use in the chase or war, when attached to a thong, which the recesses between the circles seem well adapted to receive. Among savage nations of the present day we find the use of the bolas, or stones attached to the ends of thongs, over a great part of the southern continent of America:[39] while the principle is known to the Eskimos, whose strings of sinew, weighted with bunches of ivory knobs, are arranged to wind themselves round the bird at which they are thrown, in just the same way as the much stouter cords weighted at the ends with two or three heavy stone balls which form the bolas,[40] twist round, and hamper the movements of larger game.

The bolas proper, as in use on the Pampas, consist of three balls of stone, nearly the size of the fist, and covered with leather, which are attached to the ends of three thongs, all branching from a common centre. Leaden balls have now almost superseded those of stone. The hunter gives to the bolas a rotary motion, and can then throw them to a great distance, in such a manner that the thongs entwine round the legs, neck, and body of his prey and thus render it helpless, so that it can then be easily despatched. A bola of small size, but of lead or copper, with a single thong about 3 feet long, is also used, and forms both the sling and its stone. It likewise serves as a weapon for striking in close encounter. Among the Patagonians[41] the same two varieties are used, but those for hunting have usually only two stones, and not three. They sometimes throw the single bola at the adversary, rope and all, but generally they prefer to strike at his head with it.

Assuming a difficulty in securing a ball of stone in a leather case, and that therefore it would be necessary to fasten it by means of a thong, some channelling of the surface would become a necessity; and the natural tendency of savages to decorate their weapons might lead to regular circular discs being left between the channels on the ball, and even to these discs being engraved in patterns, that next the cord being, as in Fig. 352, left undecorated. In the Christy Collection is a bola formed of a polished red spherical stone, mounted in such a manner as to show a considerable portion of its surface, which has evidently been regarded as too handsome to be entirely concealed by the leather. Mr. C. H. Read suggests that these ornamented balls were entirely covered with raw hide, which was allowed to dry, the ends or edges being tightly tied. When dry the circles over the knots were cut out so as to display the ornament and leave a solid binding round the stone to which a thong might be attached.

These bola stones are sometimes wrought so as to present a number of rounded protuberances. Of this kind there are specimens in the Christy Collection[42] and in that of the late Mr. J. Bernhard Smith. Even if the use of the bolas or the single bola were unknown, there is a form of military flail or "morning star," a sort of modification of the staff-sling, though the stone never quits the cord by which it is attached to the staff, for which such balls as these might serve. A mediæval weapon[43] of this kind, in the Meyrick Collection, consists of a staff, to which is attached by a chain a ball of wood with numerous projecting iron spikes. The citizens of London will be familiar with the same weapon in the hands of the giant Gog or Magog at Guildhall. The Calmucks, Mongols, and Chinese,[44] still use a flail of this sort, with an iron perforated ball about two pounds in weight attached to the end of the thong. Substituting one of these stone balls for the spiked morning-star, and a leather thong carefully adjusted in the channels of the stone for the chain, a most effective form of weapon for close encounters would result. Among the North American tribes a somewhat similar weapon was lately in use, and is thus described by Lewis and Clarke, as quoted by Squier and Davies:[45]—"The Shoshonee Indians use an instrument which was formerly employed among the Chippeways, and called by them pogamoggon.[46] It consists of a handle 22 inches long, made of wood covered with leather, about the size of a whip-handle. At one end is a thong 2 inches in length, which is tied to a stone weighing two pounds, enclosed in a cover of leather; at the other end is a loop of the same material, which is passed around the wrist to secure the implement, with which they strike a powerful blow." Another form of club in use among the Algonquins consisted of a round boulder sewn in a piece of fresh skin and attached to the end of a long handle, to which, by the drying of the skin, it becomes firmly attached. Examples of both of these kinds are in the British Museum. An engraving of a drumstick-like club of this character is given by Schoolcraft.[47] Unfortunately, however, the existence of such a weapon in early times is not susceptible of proof. Whatever the purpose of these British balls of stone, they seem to belong to a recent period as compared with that to which many other stone antiquities may be assigned.

  1. Arch., vol. xxxii. p. 96. Proc. Soc. Ant., vol. i. p. 157.
  2. Arch. Assoc. Journ., vol. xx. p. 73. See also "Flint Chips," p. 302.
  3. "Stone Age," p. 49.
  4. "Sports and Pastimes," ed. 1845, p. 74.
  5. "Stone Age," p. 49.
  6. 1 Sam. xvii. 43.
  7. Keller's "Lake-dwellings," pl. lxxxvi. 2.
  8. "Troy and its Remains," (1878), p. 101.
  9. "Stone Age," pl. v. 115.
  10. "Lake-dwellings," p. 135.
  11. "Cat. Mus. R. I. A.," pp. 18, 74.
  12. Engelhardt, "Nydam Mosefundet," pl. xiii. 65.
  13. Wilson, "Preh. Ann. of Scot.," vol. i. p. 197.
  14. "Preh. Times," 4th ed., p. 105.
  15. "Stone Age," p. 51.
  16. Yorksh. Arch. and Top. Journ., 1868.
  17. Ellis, "Polyn. Researches," vol. i. p. 291.
  18. "Preh. Ann. of Scot.," vol. i. p. 195. I am indebted to Messrs. Macmillan & Co. for the loan of this cut.
  19. Arch. Assoc. Journ., vol. xvii. p. 20.
  20. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. vii. p. 102.
  21. Trans. Lanc. and Chesh. A. A., vol. iii. p. 255.
  22. P. S. A. S., vol. ix. p. 393.
  23. Smith's "Preh. Man in Ayrshire," 1895, p. 105.
  24. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. vi. p. 11.
  25. "Cat. Arch. Inst. Mus. Ed.," p. 14.
  26. Report Montrose Nat. Hist. and Ant. Soc., 1868.
  27. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. v. p. 340.
  28. Ib., vol. iv. pp. 186, 292; vii. p. 209.
  29. Wilson, "Preh. Ann. Scot.," vol. i. p. 195.
  30. P. S. A. S., vol. xi. pp. 29, 313.
  31. Arch. Journ., vol. xi. p. 58.
  32. Proc. Soc. Ant. Scot., vol. iii. p. 439. Wilson, "Preh. Ann. of Scot.," vol. i. pl. iii. Photographs of three of the faces are given in the Reliquary and Illust. Archæol., vol. iii. (1897) p. 103, q.v.
  33. Arch., vol. lii. p. 14, pl. i. and ii.
  34. Trans. Dev. Assoc., vol. xii. p. 124.
  35. Worsaae, "Nord. Olds.," fig. 87, 88.
  36. Report Montrose N. H. and Ant. Soc., 1868.
  37. P. S. A. S., vol. xi. p. 56.
  38. Arch. Assoc. Journ., vol. xvii. p. 20.
  39. Tylor, "Early Hist. of Mank.," p. 179.
  40. Klemm, "Cultur-Gesch.," vol. ii. p. 17. "Azara," vol. ii. p. 46. Catlin'a "Last Rambles," p. 265. "Cult.-Wiss.," vol. i. p. 55.
  41. Lubbock, "Preh. Times," 4th ed., p. 547. Talkner's "Patagonia," p. 130. A set of these Patagonian bolas is engraved by the Rev. J. G. Wood, " Nat. Hist. of Man," vol. ii. p. 529.
  42. See Ratzel, "Völkerk.," vol. ii. (1888), p. 664.
  43. Skelton'a "Meyrick's Arm.," pl. xciii. 1.
  44. Klemm's "Cultur-Wiss.," vol. i. p. 129. "Cult.-Gesch.," vol. x. pl. iii. 4.
  45. "Anc. Mon. Mississ. Valley," p. 219.
  46. The same name, pogamagan, is applied by the Indians of the Mackenzie River to a different form. See "Reliq. Aquit.," p. 52.
  47. "Ind. Tribes," vol. i. pl. xv.