Slinging Stones & Slaying Giants
The Rock Sling, or Shepherd's Sling, is one of the oldest and most universal weapons in human history. It is perhaps best known from the biblical account of David bringing down the giant Goliath, but few are aware that this weapon was used all around the world, even as far back as prehistoric times.
The first thing that should be pointed out is that the historical sling is certainly not the modern "sling shot", with elastic bands used to aim a pellet. The sling from history consists of two cords and a pouch, to hold the rock, or "sling bullet", which could also be made of lead or clay. One of these cords is held permanently by the user, and the other end is released during a throwing motion at the correct time, sending the ammunition out with great force and speed toward the target.
The sling was likely first used to hunt game during Paleolithic times, but was later used to protect livestock and property by the time agriculture and cities appear in the Neolithic. It shows up in the archaeological record by 2,500 BC in Peruvian sites in South America. Slings are also found in Egyptian burial tombs around 1300 BC, including the most famous archaeological find of all time, the tomb of King Tut.
Homer mentions the use of the sling in organized Greek warfare in 401 BC, and heavy slings were even used in the Roman Empire as well. In Rome today, you can view a sling depicted on Trajan's column, glorifying its place in the victory of
106 AD. It remained recorded in organized warfare up until the 1500's, when the Spanish respected its deadly wield by the Aztecs and Incas. It continues to be a weapon throughout the Mediterranean, where it is used in small scale conflicts. It is not only effective, but also easy to construct and the ammunition is as free as the rocks in the stream.
A sling is also light and compact to carry, so that it could easily accompany any soldier on the march, and even worn as a headband or wristband. Ammunition could be rocks found during travel, but in organized warfare, sling bullets were made for consistency in shape and weight. The archaeological record of Greece, Rome, and the Middle East is full of sling bullets cast in lead and clay. Some of these are in museums today, still inscribed with sarcastic and funny comments, such as, "Ouch!" or "Catch!"
I first saw this weapon demonstrated while traveling in Israel when I was a young boy. A tour guide brought us to a place where local shepherds were selling them, and they were willing to show us how far and fast they could go. I was hooked, and still have that same sheep's wool sling today.
The sling is still fun to use and practice today, with member organizations around the world which hold competitions for distance and accuracy. The world record for distance is over 400 meters! There is a a lot of information online about making modern examples for sport and survival, and many YouTube videos on the possible ways to throw. A generic model of cords around 2 feet long, with up to golf ball size rocks, should be able to propel a bullet over 50 yards. With longer cords and more specialized rocks or lead bullets, some slings can go great distances, and travel at deadly speeds. Be careful when experimenting!