The Evolution of Culture

Date: 1906

Primitive Warfare

It . . . . appears desirable that, before entering upon that branch of the subject which relates to the progress and development of the art of war, I should point out briefly the analogies which exist between the weapons, tactics, and stratagems of savages and those of the lower creation, and show to what extent man appears to have availed himself of the weapons of animals for his own defence.

In so doing the subject may be classified as follows:—

This, however, leads to another subject, viz. the causes of war amongst primitive races, which is deserving of separate treatment. . . .


We may pass briefly over the defensive weapons of animals and savages, not by any means from the analogy being less perfect in this class of weapons, but rather because the similarity is too obvious to make it necessary that much stress should be laid on their resemblance.

Hides.—The thick hides of pachydermatous animals correspond to the quilted armour of ancient and semi-civilized races. Some animals, like the rhinoceros and hippopotamus, are entirely armed in this way; others have their defences on the most vulnerable part, as the mane of the lion, and the shoulder pad of the boar. The skin of the tiger is of so tough and yielding a nature, as to resist the horn of the buffalo when driven with full force against its sides. The condor of Peru has such a thick coating of feathers, that eight or ten bullets may strike without piercing it.

According to Thucydides, the Locrians and Acarnanians, being professed thieves and robbers, were the first to clothe themselves in armour. But as a general rule it may be said, that the opinions of ancient writers upon the origin of the customs with which they were familiar, are of little value in our days. There is, however, evidence to show that the use of defensive armour is not usual amongst savages in the lowest stages of culture. It is not employed, properly speaking, by the Australians, the Bushmen, the Fuegians, or in the Fiji or Sandwich Islands. But in other parts of the world, soon after men began to clothe themselves in the skins of beasts, they appear to have used the thicker hides of animals for purposes of defence. When the Esquimaux apprehends hostility, he takes off his ordinary shirt, and puts on a deer’s skin, tanned in such a manner as to render it thick for defence, and over this he again draws his ordinary shirt, which is also of deer-skin, but thinner in substance. The Esquimaux also use armour of eider drake’s skin. The Abipones and Indians of the Grand Chako arm themselves with a cuirass, greaves, and helmet, composed of the thick hide of the tapir, but they no longer use it against the musketry of the Europeans. The Yucanas also use shields of the same material. The wardress of a Patagonian chief . . . . is exhibited (Figs. 11, 12); it is composed of seven thicknesses of hide, probably of the horse, upon the body, and three on the sleeves. The chiefs of the Musgu negroes of Central Africa use for defence a strong doublet of the same kind, made of buffalo’s hide with the hair inside. The Kayans of Borneo use hide for their wardress, as shown by a specimen . . . . (Fig. 13). The skin of the bear and panther is most esteemed for this purpose. The inhabitants of Pulo Nias, an island off the western coast of Sumatra, use for armour a ’baju’ made of leather. In some parts of Egypt a breastplate was made of the back of the crocodile (Fig. 14). In the island of Cayenne, in 1519, the inhabitants used a breastplate of buffalo’s hide. The Lesghi of Tartary wore armour of hog’s skin. The Indians of Chili, in the seventeenth century, wore corselets, back and breast plates, gauntlets, and helmets of leather, so hardened, that it is described by Ovalle as being equal to metal. According to Strabo, the German Rhoxolani wore helmets, and breastplates of bull’s hide, though the Germans generally placed little reliance in defensive armour. The Ethiopians used the skins of cranes and ostriches for their armour.

We learn from Herodotus that it was from the Libyans the Greeks derived the apparel and aegis of Minerva, as represented

upon her images, but instead of a pectoral of scale armour, that of the Libyans was merely of skin. According to Smith’s Dict. of Gr. and Roman Antiquities (s.v. lorica), the Greek ’thorax,’ called , from its standing erect by its own stiffness, was originally of leather, before it was constructed of metal. In Meyrick’s Ancient Armour there is the figure of a suit, supposed formerly to have belonged to the Rajah of Guzerat (Fig. 15). The body part of this suit is composed of four pieces of rhinoceros hide, showing that, in all probability, this was the material originally employed for that particular class of armour, which is now produced of the same form in metal, a specimen of which, . . . . taken from the Sikhs, is now exhibited (Fig. 16).

In more advanced communities, as skins began to be replaced by woven materials, quilted armour supplied the place of hides. In those parts of the Polynesian Islands in which armour is used, owing probably to the absence of suitable skins, woven armour appears to have been employed in a comparatively low state of society. Specimens of this class of armour from the Museum of the Institution are exhibited; they are from the Kingsmill Islands, Pleasant Island, and the Sandwich Islands. A helmet from the latter place (Fig. 17) much resembles the Grecian in form, while the under tippet, from Pleasant Island (Fig. 18), may be compared to the pectoral of the Egyptians (Fig. 19, a and b), which, as well as the head-dress (Fig. 20), was of a thickly quilted material. The Egyptians wore this pectoral up to the time of Xerxes, who employed their sailors, armed in this way, during his expedition into Greece. Herodotus says that the Indians of Asia wore a thorax of rush matting. In 1514, Magellan found tunics of quilted cotton, called ’laudes,’ in use by the Muslims of Guzerat and the Deccan. An Indian helmet of this description from my collection (Fig. 21) is exhibited; in form it resembles the Egyptian, and an Ethiopian one (Fig. 22), composed of beads of the same form, brought from Central Africa by Consul Petherick, is exhibited. Fig. 23 shows that the same form, in India, was subsequently produced in metal. A suit of quilted armour formerly belonging to Koer Singh, and lately presented to the Institution by Sir Vincent Eyre, is also exhibited (Fig. 24). The body armour and helmet

found upon Tippoo Sahib at his death, which are now in the Museum of the Institution (Fig. 25, a, b, and c), were thickly quilted. Upon the breast, this armour consists of two sheets of parchment, and nine thicknesses of padding composed of cocoons of the Saturnia mylitta, stuffed with the wool of the Eriodendron anfractuosum, D.C., neatly sewn together, as represented in Fig. 25 b. The Aztecs and Peruvians also guarded themselves with a wadded cotton doublet. Quilted armour or thick linen corselets were used by the Persians, Phoenicians, Chalybes, Assyrians, Lusitanians, and Scythians, by the Greeks, and occasionally by the Romans. By the Persians it was used much later; and in Africa to this day, quilted armour, of precisely the same description, is used both for men and horses by the Bornouese of Central Africa, and is described by Denham and Clapperton (Fig. 26). Fig. 27 is a suit of armour . . . . from the Navigator Islands, composed of coco-nut fibre coarsely netted. Fig. 28 is part of a Chinese jacket of sky-blue cotton, quilted with enclosed plates of iron; it is precisely similar to the ’brigandine jacket’ used in Europe in the sixteenth century, which was composed of ’small plates of iron quilted within some stuff,’ and ’covered generally with sky-blue cloth.’ This class of armour may be regarded as a link connecting the quilted with the scale armour, to be described hereafter.

As a material for shields, the hides of animals were employed even more universally, and up to a later stage of civilization. In North America the majority of the wild tribes use shields of the thickest parts of the hides of the buffalo. In the New Hebrides the skin of the alligator is used for this purpose, as appears by a specimen belonging to the Institution. In Africa the Fans of the Gaboon employ the hide of the elephant for their large, rectangular shields. The Wadi, the Wagogo, and the Abyssinians in East Africa, have shields of buffalo’s hide, or some kind of leather, like the Ethiopians of the time of Herodotus. The oxhide shields of the Greeks are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad; that of Ajax was composed of seven hides with a coating of brass on the outside. The spear of Hector is described as piercing six of the hides and the brass coating, remaining fixed in the seventh hide. The Kaffirs, Bechuanas, Basutos, and others in South Africa, use the hide of the ox. The Kelgeres, Kelowi, and Tawarek, of Central Africa, employ the hide of the Leucoryx antelope. Shields of the rhinoceros hide, from Nubia, and of the ox, from Fernando Po, are exhibited. In Asia the Biluchi carry shields of the rhinoceros horn, and the same material is also used in East Africa. A specimen from Zanzibar is in the Institution. In the greater part of India the shields are made of rhinoceros and buffalo’s hide, boiled in oil, until they sometimes become transparent, and are proof against the edge of a sabre.

In a higher state of civilization, as the facilities for constructing shields of improved materials increased, the skins of animals were still used to cover the outside. Thus the negroes of the Gold Coast made their shields of osier covered with leather. That of the Kanembu of Central Africa is of wood covered with leather, and very much resembles in form that of the Egyptians, which, as we learn from Meyrick and others, was also covered with leather, having the hair on the outside like the shields of the Greeks. The Roman ’scutum’ was of wood covered with linen and sheepskin. According to the author of Horae Ferales, the Saxon shield was of wood covered with leather; the same applies to the Scotch target, and leather was used as a covering for shields as late as the time of Henry VIII.

Head crests.—The origin of the hairy crests of our helmets is clearly traceable to the custom of wearing for head-dresses the heads and hair of animals. The Asiatic Ethiopians used as a head-covering, the skin of a horse’s head, stripped from the car-case together with the ears and mane, and so contrived, that the mane served for a crest, while the ears appeared erect upon the head (Hdt. vii. 70). In the coins representing Hercules, he appears wearing a lion’s skin upon the head. These skins were worn in such a manner that the teeth appeared grinning at the enemy over the head of the wearer (as represented in Fig. 29, which is taken from a bronze in the Blacas collection), a custom which seems also to have prevailed in Mexico. Similar headdresses are worn by the soldiers on Trajan’s Column. The horns worn on the heads of some of the North American Indians (Fig. 30), and in some parts of Africa, are no doubt derived from this practice of wearing on the head the skins of animals with their appendages. The helmet of Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, was surmounted by two goat’s horns. Horns were afterwards represented in brass, on the helmets of the Thracians (Fig. 31), the Belgie Gauls, and others. Fig. 32 is an ancient British helmet of bronze lately found in the Thames, surmounted by straight horns of the same material. Horned helmets are figured on the ancient vases. Fig. 33 is a Greek helmet having horns of brass, and traces of the same custom may still be observed in heraldry.

The practice of wearing head-dresses of feathers, to distinguish the chiefs from the rank and file, is universal in all parts of the world, and in nearly every stage of civilization. Amongst the North American Indians the feathers are cut in a particular manner to denote the rank of the wearer, precisely in the same manner that the long feathers of our general officers distinguish them from those wearing shorter feathers in subordinate ranks. This custom, Mr. Schoolcraft observes, when describing the headdresses of the American Indians, may very probably be derived from the feathered creation, in which the males, in most of the cock, turkey, and pheasant tribes, are crowned with bright crests and ornaments of feathers.

Solid plates.—It has often struck me as remarkable that the shells of the tortoise and turtle, which are so widely distributed and so easily captured, and which would appear to furnish shields ready made to the hand of man, should seldom, if ever, in so far as I have been able to learn, be used by savages for that purpose. This may, however, be accounted for by the fact that broad shields of that particular form, though common in more advanced civilizations, are never found in the hands of savages, at least in those localities in which the turtle, or large tortoise, is available.

It will be seen subsequently, in tracing the history of the shield, that in the rudest condition of savage life, this weapon of defence has a history of its own; that both in Africa and Australia it is derived by successive stages from the stick or club, and that the broad shield does not appear to have been developed until after mankind had acquired sufficient constructive skill to have been able to form shields of lighter and more suitable materials than is afforded by the shell of the turtle. It is, however, evident that in later times the analogy was not lost sight of, as the word ’testudo’ is a name given by the Romans to several engines of war having shields attached to them, and especially to that particular formation of the legionary troops, in which they approached a fortified building with their shields joined together, and overlapping, like the scaly shell of the imbricated turtle, which is a native of the Mediterranean and Asiatic seas.

Jointed plates.—In speaking of the jointed plates, so common to all the crustacea, it is sufficient to notice that this class of defence in the animal kingdom, may be regarded as the prototype of that peculiar form of armour which was used by the Romans, and to which the French, at the commencement of the seventeenth century, gave the name of ’écrevisse,’ from its resemblance to the shell of a lobster. The fluted armour, common in Persia, and in the middle ages of Europe, is also constructed in exact imitation of the corrugated shell defences of a large class of the Mollusca.

Scale armour.—That scale armour derived its origin from the scales of animals, there can be little doubt. It has been stated on the authority of Arrian (Tact. 13. 14), that the Greeks distinguished scale armour by the term , expressive of its resemblance to the scales of fish; whilst the jointed armour, composed of long flexible bands, like the armour of the Roman soldier, and the ’écrevisse’ of the middle ages, was called

from its resemblance to the scales of serpents. The brute origin of scale armour is well illustrated by the breastplate of the Bugo Dyaks, a specimen of which . . . . is represented in Fig. 34. The process of its construction was described in a notice attached to a specimen of this armour in the Exhibition of 1862. The scales of the Pangolin are collected by the Bugis as they are thrown off by the animal, and are stitched on to bark with small threads of cane, so as to overlap each other in the same manner that they are arranged on the skin of the animal. When the front piece is completely covered with scales, a hole is cut in the bark for the head of the wearer. The specimen now exhibited appears, however, to be composed of the entire skin of the animal. Captain Grant, in his Walk across Africa, mentions that the scales of the armadillo are in like manner collected by the negroes of East Africa, and worn in a belt ’three inches across,’ as a charm.

It is reasonable to suppose that the use of scale armour, in most countries, originated in this manner by sewing on to the quilted armour before described, fragments of any hard material calculated to give it additional strength. Fig. 35 is a piece of bark from Tahiti, studded with pieces of coco-nut stitched on. The Sarmatians and Quadi are described by Ammianus Marcellinus as being protected by a ’lorica,’ composed of pieces of horn, planed and polished, and fastened like feathers upon a linen shirt. Pausanias also, who is confirmed by Tacitus, says that the Sarmatians had large herds of horses, that they collected the hoofs, and after preparing them for the purpose, sewed them together, with the nerves and sinews of the same animal, so as to overlap each other like the surface of a fir cone, and he adds, that the ’lorica’ thus formed was not inferior to that of the Greeks either in strength or elegance. The Emperor Domitian had, after this model, a cuirass of boar’s hoofs stitched together. Fig. 36 represents a fragment of scale armour made of horn, found at Pompeii. A very similar piece of armour (Fig. 37), from some part of Asia, said to be from Japan, but the actual locality of which is not known, is figured in Meyrick’s Ancient Armour, pl. iii. 1. It is made of the hoofs of some animal, stitched and fastened so as to hold together without the aid of a linen corselet. An ancient stone figure (Fig. 38), having an inscription in a character cognate to the Greek, but in an unknown language, and covered with armour of this description, is represented in the third volume of the Journal of the Archaeological Association. The Kayans, inhabiting the eastern coast of Borneo, form a kind of armour composed of little shells placed one overlapping the other, like scales, and having a large mother-of-pearl shell at the end. This last portion of the armour is shown in the figure of the Kayan war-dress already referred to (Fig. 13). Fig. 39 is a backand breast-piece of armour from the Sandwich Islands, composed of seal’s teeth, set like scales, and united with string.

Similar scales would afterwards be constructed in bronze and iron. It was thus employed by the Egyptians (Fig. 40), two scales of which are shown in Fig. 41; also by the Persians, Assyrians, Philistines, Dacians, and most ancient nations.

The armour of Goliath is believed to have been of scales, from

the fact of the word ’kaskassim,’ used in the text of 1 Sam. xvii, being the same employed in Leviticus and Ezekiel, to express the scales of fish. Amongst the Romans, scale armour was regarded as characteristic of barbarians, but they appear to have adopted it in the time of the Emperors. A suit of Japanese armour in my collection shows four distinct systems of defence, the back and breast being of solid plates, the sleeves and leggings composed of small pieces of iron, stitched on to cloth, and united with chain, whilst other portions are quilted with enclosed pieces of iron (Fig. 42, a and b). Fig. 43 a and b, is a suit of Chinese armour, in the Museum, having large iron scales on the inside (Fig. 44). This system was also employed in Europe. Fig. 45 is the inner side of a suit of ’jazerine’ armour of the fifteenth or sixteenth century, in my collection. Fig. 46 represents a similar suit in the Museum of the Institution, probably of the same date, having large scales of iron on the outside. A last vestige of scale armour may be seen in the dress of the Albanians, which, like the Scotch and ancient Irish kilt, and that formerly worn by the Maltese peasantry, is a relic of costume of the Greek and Roman age. In the Albanian jacket the scales are still represented in gold embroidery.


Piercing weapons.—The Gnu of South Africa, when pressed, will attack men, bending its head downwards, so as to pierce with the point of its horn. The same applies to many of the antelope tribe. The rhinoceros destroys the elephant with the thrust of its horn, ripping up the belly (Fig. 47). The horn rests on a strong arch formed by the nasal bones; those of the African rhinoceros, two in number, are fixed to the nose by a strong apparatus of muscles and tendons, so that they are loose when the animal is in a quiescent state, but become firm and immovable when he is enraged, showing in an especial manner that this apparatus is destined for warlike purposes. It is capable of piercing the ribs of a horse, passing through saddle, padding, and all. Mr. Atkinson, in his Siberian travels, speaks of the tusk of the wild boar, which in those parts is long, and as sharp as a knife, and he describes the death of a horse which was killed by a single stroke from this animal, delivered in the chest. The buffalo charges at full speed with its horn down. The bittern, with its beak, aims always at the eye. The walrus (Fig. 48) attacks fiercely with its pointed tusks, and will attempt to pierce the side of a boat with them. The needle-fish of the Amazons is armed with a long pointed lance. The same applies to the sword-fish of the Mediterranean and Atlantic (Fig. 49), which, notwithstanding its food is mostly vegetable, attacks the whale with its spear-point on all occasions of meeting. There is an instance on record, of a man, whilst bathing in the Severn near Worcester, having been killed by the sword-fish. . . . .

The narwhal has a still more formidable weapon of the same kind (Fig. 50). It attacks the whale, and occasionally the bottoms of ships, a specimen of the effect of which attack, from the Museum of the Institution, is represented in Fig. 51. The Esquimaux, who, in the accounts which they give of their own customs, profess to derive much experience from the habits of the animals amongst which they live, use the narwhal’s tusk for the points of their spears. Fig. 52 represents a ’nuguit’ from Greenland, of the form mentioned by Cranz; it is armed with the point of the narwhal’s tusk. Fig. 53, from my collection, has the shaft also of narwhal’s tusk; it is armed with a metalblade, but it is introduced here in order to show the association which existed in the mind of the constructor between his weapon and the animal from which the shaft is derived, and for the capture of which it is chiefly used. The wooden shaft, it will be seen, is constructed in the form of the fish, and the ivory fore-shaft is inserted in the snout in the exact position of that of the fish itself. At Kotzebue Sound, Captain Beechey found the natives armed with lances composed of a walrus tooth fixed to the end of a wooden staff (Fig. 54). They also employ the walrus tooth for the points of their tomahawks (Fig. 55). The horns of the antelope are used as lance-points by the Djibba negroes of Central Africa, as already mentioned (p. 52), and in Nubia also by the Shillooks and Dinkas. The antelope’s horn is also used in South Africa for the same purpose. The argus pheasant of India, the wing-wader of Australia, and the plover of Central Africa, have spurs on their wings, with which they fight; the cock and turkey have spurs on their feet, used expressly for offence. The white crane of America has been known to drive its beak deep into the bowels of a hunter. The Indians of Virginia, in 1606. are described as having arrows armed with the spurs of the turkey and beaks of birds. In the Christy collection there is an arrow, supposed to be from South America, which is armed with the natural point of the deer’s horn (Fig. 56). The war-club of the Iroquois, called GA-NE-U’-GA-O-DUS-HA, or ’deer-horn war-club,’ was armed with a point of the deer’s horn (Fig. 57), about 4 inches in length; since communication with Europeans, a metal point has been substituted (Fig. 58). It appears highly probable that the ’martel-de-fer’ of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which is also used in India and Persia, may have been derived, as its form indicates, from a horn weapon of this kind. Horn points suitable for arming such weapons have been found both in England and Ireland, two specimens of which are in my collection. The weapon of the sting-ray, from the method of using it by the animal itself, should more properly be classed with serrated weapons, but it is a weapon in general use amongst savages for spear or arrow points (Fig. 59), for which it has the particular merit of breaking off in the wound. It causes a frightful wound, and being sharply serrated, as well as pointed, there is no means of cutting it out. It is used in this way by the inhabitants of Gambler Island, Samoa, Otaheite, the Fiji Islands, Pellew Islands, and many of the Low Islands. Amongst the savages of tropical South America, the blade of the ray, probably the Trygon histrix, is used for arrow-points.

In the Balistes capriscus (Fig. 60 a), a rare British fish, the anterior dorsal is preceded by a strong erectile spine, which is used for piercing other fishes from beneath. Its base is expanded and perforated, and a bolt from the supporting plate passes freely through it. When this spine is raised, a hollow at the back receives a prominence from the next bony ray, which fixes the spine in an erect position, as the hammer of a gun-lock acts at full-cock, and the spine cannot be forced down till this prominence is withdrawn, as by pulling the trigger. This mechanism may be compared to the fixing and unfixing of a bayonet; when the spine is unfixed and bent down, it is received into a groove on the supporting plate, and offers no impediment to the progress

of the fish through the water. These fishes are also found in a fossil state, and, to use the words of Professor Owen, from whose work this description of the Balistes is borrowed, exemplify in a remarkable manner the efficacy, beauty, and variety of the ancient armoury of that order. The stickleback is armed in a similar manner, and is exceedingly pugnacious. The Cottus diceraus, Pall. (Fig. 60 b), has a multi-barbed horn on its back, exactly resembling the spears of the Esquimaux, South American, and Australian savages. The Naseus fronticornis, Lac. (Fig. 60 c), has also a spear-formed weapon. The Yellow-bellied Acanthurus is armed with a spine of considerable length upon its tail.

The Australians of King George’s Sound use the pointed fin of the roach to arm their spears; the inhabitants of New Guinea also arm their arrows with the offensive horn of the saw-fish, and with the claw of the cassowary. The sword of the Limulus, or king-crab, is an offensive weapon; its habits do not appear to be well understood, but its weapon is used in some of the Malay islands for arrow-points (Fig. 61). The natives of San Salvador, when discovered by Columbus, used lances pointed with the teeth of fish. The spine of the Diodon is also used for arrow-points (Fig. 62). Amongst other piercing weapons suggested by the horns of animals may be noticed the Indian ’kandjar’ composed of one side of the horn of the buffalo, having the natural form and point (Fig. 63). In later times a metal dagger, with ivory handle, was constructed in the same country (Fig. 64), after the exact model of the one of horn, the handle having one side flat, in imitation of the half-split horn, though of course that peculiar form was no longer necessitated by the material then used. The same form of weapon was afterwards used with a metal handle (Fig. 65). The sharp horns of the ’sasin,’ or common antelope, often steel pointed, are still used as offensive weapons in India (Figs. 66, 67, 68). . . . . Three stages of this weapon are exhibited, the first having the natural point, the second a metal point, and the third a weapon of nearly the same form composed entirely of metal. The Fakirs and Dervishes, not being permitted by their profession to carry arms, use the pointed horn of the antelope for this purpose. Fig. 69 is a specimen from my collection; from its resemblance to the Dervishes’ crutch of Western Asia, I presume it can be none other than the one referred to in the Journal of the Archaeological Association, from which I obtained this information respecting the Dervishes’ weapon. Mankind would also early derive instruction from the sharp thorns of trees, with which he must come in contact in his rambles through the forests; the African mimosa, the Gledischia, the American aloe, and the spines of certain palms, would afford him practical experience of their efficacy as piercing weapons, and accordingly we find them often used by savages in barbing their arrows.

Striking weapons.—Many animals defend themselves by blows delivered with their wings or legs; the giraffe kicks like a horse as well as strikes sideways with its blunt horns; the camel strikes with its fore legs and kicks with its hind legs; the elephant strikes with its proboscis and tramples with its feet; eagles, swans, and other birds strike with their wings; the swan is said to do so with sufficient force to break a man’s leg; the cassowary strikes forward with its feet; the tiger strikes a fatal blow with its paw; the whale strikes with its tail, and rams with such force, that the American whaler Essex is said to have been sunk by that animal. There is no known example of mankind in so low a state as to be unacquainted with the use of artificial weapons. The practice of boxing with the fist, however, is by no means confined to the British Isles as some people seem to suppose, for besides the Romans, Lusitanians, and others mentioned in classical history, it prevailed certainly in the Polynesian islands and in Central Africa.

Serrated weapons.—This class of weapons in animals corresponds to the cutting weapons of men. Amongst the most barbarous races, however, as amongst animals, no example of a cutting weapon is found: although the Polynesian islanders make very good knives of the split and sharpened edges of bamboo, and the Esquimaux, also, use the split tusk of the walrus as a knife, these cannot be regarded, nor, indeed, are they used, as edged weapons. These, strictly speaking, are confined to the metal age, and their place, in the earliest stages of civilization, is supplied by weapons with serrated, or saw-like edges.

Perhaps the nearest approach in the animal kingdom to an edged weapon is the fore-arm of the mantis, a kind of cricket, used by the Chinese and others in the East for their amusement. Their combats have been compared to that of two soldiers fighting with sabres. They cut and parry with their fore-arms, and, sometimes, a single stroke with these is sufficient to decapitate, or cut in two the body of an antagonist. But on closer inspection, these fore-arms are found to be set with a row of strong and sharp spines, similar to those of all other animals that are provided with this class of weapon. The snout of the saw-fish is another example of the serrated weapon. Its mode of attacking the whale is by jumping up high in the air, and falling on the animal, not with the point, but with the sides of its formidable weapon, both edges of which are armed with a row of sharp horns, set like teeth, by means of which it rasps a severe cut in the flesh of the whale. The design in this case is precisely analogous to that of the Australian savage, who throws his similarly constructed spear so as to strike, not with the bone point, but with its more formidable edges, which are thick set with a row of sharp-pointed pieces of obsidian, or rock-crystal. The sawfish is amongst the most widely distributed of fishes, belonging to the arctic, antarctic, and tropical seas. It may, therefore, very possibly have served as a model in many of the numerous localities in which this character of weapon is found in the hands of savages. The snout itself is used as a weapon by the inhabitants of New Guinea, the base being cut and bound round so as to form a handle. Fig. 70 is a specimen from the Museum of the Institution. The weapon of the sting-ray, though used by savages for spear-points, more properly belongs to this class, as the mode of its employment by the animal itself consists in twisting its long, slender tail round the object of attack, and cutting the surface with its serrated edge. The teeth of all animals, including those of man himself, also furnish examples of serrated weapons.

When we find models of this class of weapon so widely distributed in the lower creation, it is not surprising that the first efforts of mankind in the construction of trenchant implements, should so universally consist of teeth or flint flakes, arranged along the edges of staves or clubs, in exact imitation of the examples which he finds ready to his hand, in the mouths of the animals which he captures, and on which he is dependent for his food. Several specimens of implements, edged in this manner with sharks’ teeth . . . . are represented in Figs. 71, 72, 73, 74. They are found chiefly in the Marquesas, in Tahiti, Depeyster’s Island, Byron’s Isles, the Kingsmill Group, Radak Island, and the Sandwich Islands, also in New Zealand (Fig. 75). They are of various shapes, and are used for various cutting purposes, as knives, swords, and glaves. Two distinct methods of fastening the teeth to the wood prevail in the Polynesian Islands; firstly, by inserting them in a groove cut in the sides of the stick or weapon; and secondly, by arranging the teeth in a row, along the sides of the stick, between two small strips of wood on either side of the teeth, lashed on to the staff, in all cases, with small strings, composed of plant fibre. The points of the teeth are usually arranged in two opposite directions on the same staff, so that a severe cut may be given either in thrusting or withdrawing the weapon.

A similarly constructed implement, also edged with sharks’ teeth, was found by Captain Graah on the east coast of Greenland, and is mentioned in Dr. King’s paper on the industrial arts of the Esquimaux, in the Journal of the Ethnological Society. The teeth in this implement were secured by small nails, or pegs of bone; it was used formerly on the West Coast. A precisely similar implement (Fig. 76), but showing an advance in art by being set with a row of chips of meteoric iron, was found amongst the Esquimaux of Davis Strait, and is now in the department of meteorolites in the British Museum. Others, of the same nature, from Greenland, are in the Christy collection (Fig. 77). The ’pacho’ of the South Sea Islands appears to have been a sort of club, armed on the inner side with sharks’ teeth, set in the same manner. The Tapoyers, of Brazil, used a kind of club, which was broad at the end, and set with teeth and bones, sharpened at the point.

Hernandez gives an account of the construction of the Mexican ’maquahuilt’ or Aztec war-club, which was armed on both sides with a row of obsidian flakes, stuck into holes, and fastened with a kind of gum (Fig. 78). Herrera, the Spanish historian, also mentions these as swords of wood, having a groove in the fore part, in which the flints were strongly fixed with bitumen and thread. In 1530, according to the Spanish historians, Copan was defended by 30,000 men, armed with these weapons, amongst others; and similar weapons have been represented in the sculptures of Yucatan. They are also represented in Lord Kingsborough’s important work on Mexican antiquities, from which the accompanying representations are taken (Figs. 78, 79, 80). One of these swords, having six pieces of obsidian on each side of the blade, is to be seen in a Museum in Mexico.

In the burial mounds of Western North America, Mr. Lewis Morgan, the historian of the Iroquois, mentions that rows of flint flakes have been found lying, side by side, in order, and suggesting the idea that they must have been fastened into sticks in the same manner as those of Mexico and Yucatan.

Throughout the entire continent of Australia the natives arm their spears with small sharp pieces of obsidian, or crystal, and recently of glass, arranged in rows along the sides near the point, and fastened with a cement of their own preparation, thereby producing a weapon which, though thinner in the shaft, is precisely similar in character to those already described (Figs. 81 and 82). Turning again to the northern hemisphere, we find in the Museum of Professor Nilsson, at Lund, in Sweden, a smooth, sharp-pointed piece of bone, found in that country, about six inches long, grooved on each side to the depth of about a quarter of an inch, into each of which grooves a row of fine, sharp-edged, and slightly-curved flints were inserted, and fixed with cement. The instrument thus armed was fastened to the end of a shaft of wood, and might either have been thrown by the hand or projected from a bow (Fig. 83). Another precisely similar implement (Fig. 84) is represented in the illustrated Catalogue of the Museum at Copenhagen, showing that in both these countries this system of constructing trenchant implements was employed. In Ireland, although there is no actual evidence of flints having been set in this manner, yet from the numerous examples of this class of weapon that are found elsewhere, and the frequent occurrence of flint implements of a form that would well adapt them to such a purpose, the author of the Catalogue of the Royal Irish Academy expresses his opinion that the same arrangement may very possibly have existed in that country, and that the wood in which they were inserted may, like that which, as I have already said, is supposed to have held the flints found in the graves of the Iroquois, have perished by decay.

Poisoned weapons.—It is unnecessary to enter here into a detailed account of the use of poison by man and animals. Its use by man as a weapon of offence is chiefly confined to those tropical regions in which poisonous herbs and reptiles are most abundant. It is used by the Negroes, Bushmen, and Hottentots of Africa; in the Indian Archipelago, New Hebrides, and New Caledonia. It appears formerly to have been used in the South Seas. It is employed in Bootan; in Assam; by the Stiens of Cambodia; and formerly by the Moors of Mogadore. The Parthians and Scythians used it in ancient times; and it appears always to have been regarded by ancient writers as the especial attribute of barbarism. The Italian bravoes of modern Europe also used it. In America it is employed by the Darian Indians, in Guiana, Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, and on the Orinoco. The composition of the poison varies in the different races, the Bushmen and Hottentots using the venomous secretions of serpents and caterpillars, whilst most other nations of the world employ the poisonous herbs of the different countries they inhabit, showing that in all probability this must have been one of those arts which, though of very early origin, arose spontaneously and separately in the various quarters of the globe, after the human family had separated. This subject, however, is deserving of a separate treatment, and will be alluded to elsewhere.

In drawing a parallel between the weapons of men and animals used in the application of poison for offensive purposes, two points of similitude deserve attention.

Firstly, the poison gland of many serpents is situated on the upper jaw, behind and below the eyes. A long excretory duct extends from this gland to the outer surface of the upper jaw, and opens above and before the poison teeth, by which means the poison flows along the sheath into the upper opening of the tooth in such a manner as to secure its insertion into the wound. The hollow interior of the bones with which the South American and other Indians arm the poisoned arrows secures the same object (Fig. 85); it contains the poisonous liquid, and provides a channel for its insertion into the wound. In the bravo’s dagger of Italy, a specimen of which from my collection is shown in Fig. 86, a similar provision for the insertion of the poison is effected by means of a groove on either side of the blade, communicating with two rows of small holes, into which the poison flows, and is retained in that part of the blade which enters the wound. Nearly similar blades, with holes, have been found in Ireland, of which a specimen is in the Academy’s Museum, and they have been compared with others of the same kind from India, but I am not aware that there is any evidence to show that they were used for poison. Some of the Indian daggers, however, are constructed in close analogy with the poison apparatus of the serpent’s tooth, having an enclosed tube running down the middle of the blade, communicating with a reservoir for poison in the handle, and having lateral openings in the blade for the diffusion of the poison in the wound. Similar holes, but without any enclosed tube, and having only a groove on the surface of the blade to communicate with the holes, are found in some of the Scotch dirks, and in several forms of couteau de chasse, in which they appear to have been used merely with a view of letting air into the wound, and accelerating death (Figs. 87 a and b). The Scotch dirk, here represented, has a groove running from the handle along the back of the blade to within three and a half inches of the point. In the bottom of this groove ten holes are pierced, which communicate with other lateral holes at right angles, opening on to the sides of the blade. Daggers are still made at Sheffield for the South American market, with a small hole drilled through the blade, near the point, to contain the poison; and in my collection there is an iron arrow-point (Fig. 88), evidently formed of the point of one of these daggers, having the hole near the point.

It often happens that forms which, in the early history of an art, have served some specific object, are in later times applied to other uses, and are ultimately retained only in the forms of ornamentation. This seems to have been the case with the

pierced work upon the blades of weapons which, intended originally for poison, was afterwards used as air-holes, and ultimately for ornament only, as appears by a plug bayonet of the commencement of the eighteenth century in the Tower Armoury, No. 390 of the official Catalogue, for a drawing of which, as well as that of the Scotch dirk, I am indebted to Captain A. Tupper, a member of the Council of this Institution.

The second point of analogy to which I would draw attention is that of the multi-barbed arrows of most savages to the multibarbed stings of insects, especially that of the bee (Fig. 89), which is so constructed that it cannot usually be withdrawn, but breaks off with its poisonous appendage into the wound. An exact parallel to this is found in the poisoned arrows of savages of various races, which, as already mentioned, are frequently armed with the point of the sting-ray, for the express purpose of breaking in the wound. In the arrows of the Bushmen, the shaft is often partly cut through, so as to break when it comes in contact with a bone, and the barb is constructed to remain in the wound when the arrow is withdrawn (Fig. 90). The same applies to the barbed arrows used with the Malay blowpipe (Fig. 91), and those of the wild tribes of Assam (Fig. 92), which are also poisoned. The arrow-points of the Shoshones of North America (Fig. 93), said to be poisoned, are tied on, purposely, with gut in such manner as to remain when the arrow is with-drawn. The arrows of the Macoushie tribe of Guiana (Fig. 94) are made with a small barbed and poisoned head, which is inserted in a socket in the shaft, in which it fits loosely, so as to detach in the wound. This weapon appears to form the link between the poisoned arrow and the fishing arrow or harpoon, which is widely distributed, and which I propose to describe on a subsequent occasion. Mr. Latham, of Wilkinson’s, Pall Mall, has been kind enough to describe to me a Venetian dagger of glass, formerly in his possession; it had a tube in the centre for the poison, and the blade was constructed with three edges. By a sharp wrench from the assassin, the blade was broken off, and remained in the wound.

It has also been supposed that from their peculiar construction most of the triangular and concave-based arrow-beads of flint that are found in this country, and in Ireland, were constructed for a similar purpose (Fig. 95).

The serrated edges of weapons, like those of the bee and the sting-ray, when used as arrow-points, were likewise instrumental in retaining the poison and introducing it into the wound, and this form was copied with a similar object in some of the Florentine daggers above mentioned, a portion of the blade of one of which, taken from Meyrick’s Ancient Arms and Armour, is shown in Fig. 96.

Although the use of poison would in these days be scouted by all civilized nations as an instrument in war, we find it still applied to useful purposes in the destruction of the larger animals. The operation of whaling, which is attended with so much danger and difficulty, has of late been greatly facilitated by the use of a mixture of strychnine and ’woorali,’ the wellknown poison of the Indians of South America. An ounce of this mixture, attached to a small explosive shell fired from a carbine, has been found to destroy a whale in less than eighteen minutes, without risk to the whaler.

When we consider how impotent a creature the aboriginal and uninstructed man must have been, when contending with the large and powerful animals with which he was surrounded, we cannot too much admire that provision of nature which appears to have directed his attention, during the very earliest stages of his existence, to the acquirement of the subtile art of poisoning. In the forests of Guiana, there are tribes, such as the Otomacs, apparently weaponless, but which, by simply poisoning the thumb-nail with ’curare’ or ’woorali,’ at once become formidable antagonists. Poison is available for hunting as well as for warlike purposes: the South American Indians eat the monkeys killed by this means, merely cutting out the part struck, and the wild tribes of the Malay peninsula do not even trouble themselves to cut out the part before eating. The Bushmen, and the Stiens of Cambodia, use their poisoned weapons chiefly against wild beasts and elephants.

Thus we see that the most noxious of herbs and the most repulsive of reptiles have been the means ordained to instruct mankind in what, during the first ages of his existence, must have been the most useful of arts. We cannot now determine how far this agent may have been influential in exterminating those huge animals, the Elephas primigenius and Rhinoceros tichorhinus, with the remains of which the earliest races of man have been so frequently associated, and which, in those primaeval days, before he began to turn his hand to the destruction of his own species, must have constituted his most formidable enemies. . . . .—A. LANE-FOX PITT-RIVERS, , Vol. XI, and reprinted in , 57–82 (Clarendon Press, 1906).

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Chicago: The Evolution of Culture in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. Thomas, William I. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1909), 374–392. Original Sources, accessed July 21, 2024,

MLA: . The Evolution of Culture, Vol. XI, in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, edited by Thomas, William I., Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1909, pp. 374–392. Original Sources. 21 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: , The Evolution of Culture. cited in 1909, Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.374–392. Original Sources, retrieved 21 July 2024, from