Boomerangs and Atlatls. Super-ancient weapons need love.

This might belong in the historical fiction category, but I like to mix history and fantasy together. Anyway, boomerangs and slings and atlatls and chariots are a set of truly ancient weapons/ weapon systems that haven’t gotten much love in media. I think the reason for htis is because the bronze age is just too old and too strange for many readers, and it requires us to imagine the world before the world we like to imagine.

To spell that out: We like to think of the olden days as horses and knights and horse shoes, and bows and arrows, but there were times and places before horses, before iron, before arrows. There are cultures like those from the Valley of Mexico that didn’t get bows and arrows until sometime in the 10th or 11th century according to Ross Hassig.

Imagine a fantasy in the age of chariots, when the only horses were ponies. Or one where the only range weapons available were humble slings, atlatls, and throwsticks? Before the sword? Before the sword was the club and the mace. What would an ultra low tech fantasy bring to the world that the default doesn’t?

It could make the daily life more intense. If the MC has to hunt, has to gather, make his own weapons from wood, stone, and bone.

What do y’all think?

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Note: I’m not sure how many people have thought about the comparisons between these different weapons, so maybe it will be more productive to prime the pump.

Boomerang: Real hunting boomerangs don’t usually return to the thrower, but are used to hunt bats or birds or kangaroos. They are like archaic shotguns, their large spinning mass is much easier to hit with than the small tip of an arrow. King Tut, used boomerangs to hunt birds, even though he used bows for lions and other things.

Atlatl: The atlatl is a simpler weapon than the bow and arrow, and the atlatl has good range and penetrating power, but the darts it uses are longer and heavier than arrows, meaning atlatls can carry less ammo than bows, and since they are thrown, the atlatl can be used with a shield strapped to the left arm, while a bow basically uses two hands. This, I believe, is one reason the Aztec frontline fighters still used the atlatl as they moved to engage, similar to how the Romans used their pila.

Chariots: Chariots normally used 2-4 horses, and could move pretty fast. Importantly they don’t require as much skill for riding or combat, since the archer does not need to stir the horse and fight at the same time, and I believe smaller horses could probably pull the chariot longer than they could support a rider, since the weight is not on top of them and the efficiency of the wheel. However chariots are more likely to break, since they require extra parts, and involve skilled chariot builders. They also can’t go up hill or go over rough terrain as well as a horse alone could.

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In the classical period of my book, chariots were all the rage. People would come up with interesting ideas to make their chariots unique: attaching scorpions to them to make mobile guns, carrying pots of oil to throw at enemy phalanxes, and so on.

Also small atlatls are standard weaponry of the Minyari legionnaires, used to throw javelins at the enemy. It can also be used as a makeshift shovel or warhammer.

Was the Assyrians that used to put wicked blades on the wheels of their chariots so that when they rode into enemy lines they’d cut through the legs of anyone that came near?

On a related note, was it also the Assyerians who had women in their army which inspired the idea of Amazon women?

I think the Amazons were inspired by Sarmatians/Scythians, but not sure about the Assyrians gender roles.


I know the bladed chariots were from the Persians vs. Alexander the great, I don’t know if they did that before or after though.

Personally I think the Amazons are just a Greek cultural artifact, I don’t know if they were actually based on any real people, though I have heard that they were based on Scythian women, and Rome Total War ran with that back in the day. But I since Greek culture was very patriarchal, I think a women dominated society just checked a lot of weird boxes for them, sorta like how American scifi writers like to make societies that are either very religious, or collectivist or totalitarian.

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I guess the source of my thought was what it would be like to have a fantasy set in pre-tech. Like when shoes were new, have the bow and arrow be a new invention. I use a lot of Inca/Aztec/Egypt stuff for this, but one of the things that really surprised me was the Aztec usage of porters. Without horses, or carts, everything in the Aztec empire had to be either canoed or just carried, so they had huge trains of porters to carry everything around, and the rich rode piggy back across the empire, being passed off at relay points.

If a fantasy were set in this kind of low tech, I think you could write a really interesting survival-exploration story, much more man vs. nature, where the weapons and tools have to be made on the way, the flint found and knapped, and each town is a tribe or village, with their own gods and rituals to appease before continuing.

It seems like Scythian/Sarmatian culture was pretty egalitarian in terms of gender (lots of women buried with weapons and armour and stuff) so I feel like the Greeks just exaggerated that into matriarchy.

They definitely existed before that, but I can’t remember if it was the Assyerian army or another one.

My favourites are mere and patu, short warclubs carved from jade, used by New Zealand Mäori and often wielded by women.

I don’t know much about the Scythians. Is there a book you’d recommend on the subject? Most of what I know is from internet hearsay.

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Yes I love the mere as well. I have an aquatic fantasy book I wrote earlier in the year and I took a lot of inspiration from various Polynesian weapons for it, shark toothed weapons and jade in particular. At the moment the story is sitting and waiting for an edit, the book came in way over my word budget so I know there will be a reckoning of an edit in store for it.

I haven’t heard anything about mere being wielded by women before. Is there a good book or documentary on it? I was looking for a bunch of info on Maori war culture a while ago but only found a little bit on the Taiaha and the Musket Wars.

I’m not too sure about a book. I haven’t read this one:

which talks about Proto-Indo-Europeans and Indo-European cultures in general, and might touch on them

Interesting, but the review seem to argue it’s mostly a linguistic book about the Indo-Europeans. I actually don’t know if the Scythians were or weren’t, hell I’m not sure if we even know what language they spoke. Anyway, thanks for the book hit.

I have an idea for a story set in my Secondary world about a Turkic nomad wandering the desert to hunt caravans, while he in turn is stalked by echoing calls of a Sphinx. I’m waiting to meet up with some horse experts to get some details right before I try it though. Books like this about central Eurasia always perk my interest.

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Scythians spoke an Iranian language (we know from their personal names the Greeks wrote down). Closest relative is this:

Spoken in the Caucasus by people who are culturally connected to/ descended from the Scythians.

looking at Herodotus might be interesting. Probably totally inaccurate and biased but a first-hand look at how the Greeks perceived them when they encountered each other.

Can’t claim to be a specialist in tikanga-a-iwi, but I recall that the mere (or patu) carved from pounamu was a mark of rank and could be carried only by rangatira. While they were displayed at tangi (funerals) they were never buried with the body, but rather passed to heirs. I also recall that women weren’t allowed to carry piercing weapons (i.e. drawing blood), but of course a head wound inflicted by a mere would certainly bleed like the devil.

For research, this is a good starting point:

Here’s a famous NZ portrait showing a mere and a hei tiki, both signifying high rank:

In my sci-fi novel about the wreck of the ANZAC Far Stars expedition, the female MC uses a mere to great effect.

Cool, what genre is your book? Scifi or more space fantasy?

Oh sweet, I sorta know a few Ossetians from my time in the Republic of Georgia, didn’t know the Scythians were related to that group. My co-teacher was an Armenian married to an Ossetian, which was a little problematic due to racial tensions from the 2008 war, but I only saw a little of that myself.

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Hmmm, do you recommend it personally? Like do you find it interesting?