To Sling or Not to Sling — That Was Never The Question -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 11:1 (Winter 1998)
Article: To Sling or Not to Sling — That Was Never The Question
Author: Gary A. Byers

To Sling or Not to Sling — That Was Never The Question

Gary A. Byers

What is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings with a single bound? While slingstones do none of the above, they were, nonetheless, among the most important weapons in an ancient army’s arsenal.

At our Khirbet el-Maqatir excavation 10 miles north of Jerusalem in Israel’s West Bank, sling-stones have been found in almost every area of the dig. These stones don’t talk, but they do tell tales - about the people who once lived there.

“After two seasons of excavation, we have found nearly two dozen slingstones,” said Dr. Bryant Wood, the dig’s director. “Most are roughly round and slightly over two inches in diameter, from the size of a billiard ball to a tennis ball.” Not naturally rounded, they all have evidence of tooling. Their size and shape suggest an early period in Palestine’s history. Larger slingstones, such as these, were generally used in this region prior to the Greek period (late 4th century BC).

Bronze Age slingstones from Khirbet el-Maqatir.

Literally A Rock of Ages

It is unclear when men first started slinging stones instead of throwing them. Yet, once known, it did not take long to learn that stones could be slung faster, farther, and more accurately, than they could be thrown. Early slingers also

found smoother, rounded, stones were far more effective than any other shape. Ancient hand slings generally consisted of a single long strip of leather or woven wool, with a central “pocket” for the stone. The longer the sling, the greater its range. Long-range slings were about 3 ft long.

“Slingers are often visualized as releasing overhead, yet the best way to utilize a sling is by an underhand motion, like a softball pitcher,” said Grace Kellner, Artifacts Registrar of the Kh. el-Maqatir excavation. “Elaborate windups were wasted motion. One windup, like a good softball pitcher, was sufficient.”

One end of the sling was secured to the fingers of the throwing hand. The other end, held between thumb and forefinger, was released thus propelling the stone. Before development of the modern compound bow, ancient slingers were as effective as archers and served as an important contingent of any military force. Greek slingers were among the lightly armed troops (peltast), whose ranks also included archers and javelin throwers.

The heavy infantryman (hoplite), armed for hand-to-hand combat, was considered most honorable...

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