The roots of organized conflict in the Southern Levant go back to at least the late Stone Age, according to a recently released study by Israel Antiquities Authority researchers.
The study examined hundreds of slingshot stones found at two large prehistoric sites in Israel: Ein Zippori in the lower Galilee and Ein Esur in the northern Sharon plain. The stones date from around 7,200 years ago, during the Early Chalcolithic period (c. 5800–4500 BCE).
The researchers found that the stones were nearly identical in size, shape and composition, indicating they were mass-produced in an organized fashion, almost certainly with warfare in mind.
“The stones, which were intended to be projected from a sling, are smoothed, with a specific biconical aerodynamic form, enabling exact and effective projection,” the archaeologists said.
“These stones are in fact, the earliest evidence of warfare in the Southern Levant. The similarity of the sling stones points to large-scale industrial production. The effort put into the aerodynamic form and the smoothing of the stones’ surface indicate that they were intended to be exact and deadly weapons,” the researchers said.
Similar stones have been found all over Israel, but this is the first time such a large cache of such weapons has been found, indicating an organized community producing ammunition.
In their study, the authors conclude: “The proliferation, formalization, standardization and labor-intensive manufacturing all point toward an organized production of weapons, interpreted as an escalation in the preparations for war, attesting to the probable existence of local power centers in the region.”
The research paper, “Up in Arms: Slingstone Assemblages from the Late Prehistoric Sites of ‘En Ẓippori and ‘En Esur,” was written by Dr. Gil Haklay, Enno Bron, Dr. Dina Shalem, Dr. Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov of the Israel Antiquities Authority and published in the most recent edition of the IAA’s journal, ‘Atiqot.
Ancient slings, not to be confused with the more modern slingshot, were known to be deadly and accurate missile weapons used for hunting, self-defense and warfare.
Most famously featured in the biblical story of David and Goliath, slings were still in use as military weapons as late as the Roman period. Specialized Roman sling units called funditores are recorded to have played a crucial role in the Roman conquest of Britain in the first century CE.
More recently, contemporary ancient weapon enthusiasts and academic researchers have confirmed that the ancient sling was an effective weapon. The video below shows one such modern effort to develop the technique for using the ancient sling.