The projectile, whether as a weapon of war or hunting, marks a critical stage in the evolution of genus Homo, and especially into our species Homo sapiens. While tool use is documented among birds, and some form of tool-shaping among primates, the ability to make sharp-tipped tools that can be thrown at prey or conflicting individuals has only been observed in our species. Indeed, beginning with prehistoric times, humanity has relied on the thrown weapon to rise up to become the apex predator.
The projectile, in combination with other primate features such as binocular vision, the erect posture and the power grip finally made us human. It may be argued that were it not for the thrown weapon, members of our species would still be apes cracking bones to eat the marrow in the Savanna.
As blade technology improved through various stages, starting from the Oldowan and then further evolving into the Acheulian, the ability to dig for roots, to cut plants and meat, and split wood improved the standard of life steadily. The skill to haft flattened, pointed versions of these weapons to rudimentary spears in the Middle Palaeolithic led to the ability to hunt prey using a tool with a long reach, thus safeguarding the self. From here, it appears to have been a short leap of judgement to redesign the stabbing spear and to turn it into a throwing spear, thus enhancing range and also improving the success rates.
Thus, it is the ballistic weapon – with a pointed stone tool tied to a wooden stick (javelin) or even perhaps a coeval evolution in technology i.e. the bolas – that has given us the ability to bring down large prey and to provide us with valuable protein, furs, leather, sinew and tool- making bones, horns and antlers.
The javelin was soon succeeded by the atl-atl/woomera in many places thus further enabling range and accuracy and once again improving the margins of survival via success in the hunt. The final prehistoric technological evolution which took place either in the Upper Palaeolithic or most definitely in the Mesolithic was the Bow and Arrow and this was almost the apex ballistic weapon of the Stone Ages.
These javelins, atl-atls and bows and arrows would also make organised conflict possible, as growing populations clashed with each other for limited resources, and the fear of close combat was overcome.
From the prehistoric period to modern times, ballistics have played a crucial role in human evolution. This rise in long-distance weaponry also tested human ingenuity in building
defences against them and resulted in the emergence of the palisade and subsequent mud, brick and stone fortifications.
The Bronze and Iron Ages saw refinements in these technologies albeit with only incremental changes. Stone points were replaced by copper, bronze and iron, yet the basic designs remained the same.
The achievements of ballistic technologies kept pace with the defence strategies and soon ballistae, mangonels, catapults, onagers and trebuchets all emerged as weapons of offence and defence against fortifications.
The bow underwent numerous iterations from the longbow to the recurve and composite bows. Finally mechanical adaptations led to the emergence of the crossbow and arabalest in the 1st millennium BC.
All of these techniques involve muscle power and are collectively known as Neuroballistics. The challenge to Neuroballistics only came about with the widespread use of gunpowder and gunpowder based weapon systems only in the last millenium (11th c AD onwards) which along with rocketry are collectively known as Pyroballistics.
Due to the sheer variety of topics that need to be discussed the Ballistics Conference is broken into two. The first (in Feb 2022) will cover Neuroballistics from the Dawn of Man to the coming of Gunpowder. The second conference (later in July 2022) will be solely devoted to Pyroballistics and will take up where the first has left off and continue all the way to this day.
– Dr. Kurush F. Dalal and Raamesh Gowri Raghavan