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.
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 nightstick. 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. 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.
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 the 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 has 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.
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.
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 mean death and a meal. Spears can be thrown a short distance, but they were best utilized in 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 hindquarters 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 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 the longer and more accurate flight will be fletched, while others used for close quarters like spearing fish may lack fletching, instead of relying on the long, straight shaft of the dart for accuracy.