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Native American Weapons – Part 1

Axes and Tomahawks

One of the most well known Native American weapons is arguably the tomahawk or war axe. Originally tomahawk was the name given to a war club in the Powhatan language, it wasn’t until the European settlers arrived that this changed. With the introduction of steel and iron along with the new weapons (in this instance the hatchet) the Native Americans began creating new and more effective weapons. They did already have stone axes which were used specifically as tools but with these new metals and designs they began adding axe heads to their clubs and subsequently the definition of a tomahawk changed. This weapon was favoured by warriors for its versatility; they could be used in hand to hand combat, as a short distanced ranged weapon or as a tool. Some axe heads were attached to a hollowed out handle that doubled up as a smoking pipe, fittingly this is called a ‘Pipe Tomahawk’, though these were more ceremonial in use.

Bow and Arrow

If your first thought wasn’t the tomahawk, then it was no doubt the bow and arrow. This weapon was widely used not just by Native Americans but all over the world, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Almost every tribe all over the Americas used the bow and arrow, for hunting, fighting or often both of these since the Stone Age. Arrow heads as old as 13,000 years have been discovered, some were even found with prehistoric creatures like giant bison and woolly mammoths. Bows were usually crafted with wood however some were crafted using horn and sinew. The latter was used in the Rocky Mountains region and was so powerful that they could fire straight through a buffalo’s body. Arrows were usually made of a flint head, a wooden shaft and fletched with feathers to help it fly in a straight line.

Spear and Atlatl

Much like the bow and arrow, the spear has been used all over the world and is likely the first hunting weapon ever created. Native Americans used spears primarily as a missile weapon, launching it at their prey or enemies. The spears were crafted in a similar way to arrows with a flint head, wooden pole and feather fletching. In order to maximise accuracy and throwing speed a device called an atlatl was used, this is a thin piece of wood with a hallowed out cup crafted in to the end of it. The spear is placed into the cup and the device acts as a launcher, this increases the strength and aim of the throw exponentially. Sometimes larger versions were crafted as lunging weapons for war. These were named lances and were originally used for hand to hand combat during skirmishes, however once horseback riding was introduced they became a prized weapon of the mounted warrior. Later, due to its significance of the battlefield, the lance became a weapon of both ceremonial and symbolic importance to some tribes.

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