Evidence of Earliest Warfare and Organized Arming Uncovered in Modern Israel
Researchers have unearthed the earliest evidence of warfare and organized arming in the Southern Levant, dating back approximately 7,200 years. This finding, centered in what is now modern Israel, reveals a period of mass weapon production, in the form of deadly slingstones, far earlier than previously known.
The team, consisting of Dr. Gil Haklay, Enno Bron, Dr. Dina Shalem, Dr. Ianir Milevski, and Nimrod Getzov from the Israel Antiquities Authority, analyzed 424 slingstones from the Early Chalcolithic period (circa 5800–4500 BC), announced Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on its Facebook page. These artifacts were excavated from two significant sites: ‘En Esur in the northern Sharon plain and ‘En Zippori in the Lower Galilee, both conducted by the IAA.
Remarkably, the hundreds of slingstones discovered were nearly identical, primarily crafted from hard limestone/dolomite. They were uniformly sized, averaging 52 mm (2 inches) in length, about 32 mm (1.25 inches) in width, and weighing around 60 g (2 ounces). The archaeologists noted, "The stones, intended to be projected from a sling, are smoothed, with a specific biconical aerodynamic form, enabling exact and effective projection."
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Stone Age sling stones found in Israel. (Emil Aladjem/IAA)
Deadly Force of a Slingshot
The use of the sling to launch rocks at the enemy is known anecdotally from the famous battle between David and Goliath in the 9th century BC. But cast lead bullets were also found at the scene of the Battle of Marathon from 490 BC. The use of slings is known in many parts of the world from ancient times.
The ancient Greeks and Romans produced lead bullets for use in slings, also in mass quantities, sometimes in molds and sometimes just by digging a figure into sand and pouring molten lead into it.
And these were weapons to be taken seriously. A report from 2017 suggested these sling bullets could make impact ‘with nearly the force of a .44 Magnum handgun’ - famously one of the most powerful pistols in the world.
The consistency and sheer volume of slingstones found, previously found scattered across the country but never in such large concentrations, signify the earliest evidence of warfare in the region. The similarity of the stones suggests large-scale industrial production, indicating a shift from individual crafting to mass production, possibly as a community effort.
The meticulous effort invested in the aerodynamic design and smoothing of the stones' surfaces underlines their intended use as precise and deadly weapons. This large-scale production and the organized preparation for battle suggest a significant escalation in warfare tactics during the Early Chalcolithic period, possibly involving conflicts between local powers.
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Stone Age sling stones found in Ein Zippori, Israel. (Gil Haklai/IAA)
The findings, detailed in the study "Up in Arms: Slingstone Assemblages from the Late Prehistoric Sites of ‘En Ẓippori and ‘En Esur," published in Atiqot, provide a new understanding of the intensity of warfare preparations in this ancient era. The research was accompanied by photography from Gil Haklay, Emil Aladjem, and Assaf Peretz of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Top image: Prehistoric slingstones used for warfare 7200 years ago in Israel. Source: Emil Aladjem/Israel Antiquities Authority
By Gary Manners
Siegel-Itzkovich, Judy, Nov 2023. Earliest systematic weapons production dating back 7,000 years found in Israel. Jerusalem Post. Available at: https://www.jpost.com/archaeology/article-774501
Fiske, Gavbriel, Nov 2023. Archaeologists find earliest evidence of mass weapons production in Stone Age Israel. The Times of Israel. Available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/archaeologists-find-earliest-evidence-of-mass-weapons-production-in-stone-age-israel/