Archive for the 'Weapon' Category

Object: Huaorani Blowgun, Quiver with Darts, and Kapok-filled Gourd



Figure 1: Huaorani blowgun. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 


Figure 2: Huaorani quiver with darts, kapok gourd (the kapok fluff is visible in the plastic bag above the quiver) and piranha jaw. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

E/1968/5/001, E/1968/5/002
Blowgun, Darts & Quiver
Ecuador, South America
Unknown Date
Materials: Wood with attached plant material (blowgun); wood basket containing plant material with attached metal beads, animal bone, and fur threads (quiver & darts)

Hailing from the Amazonian Region of Ecuador, the Huaorani (also commonly known as the Waorani, Waodani, and Waos) people are historically marked by their independent nature. [1] Although Western influence has crept into some aspects of Huaorani life, such as through the introduction of shotguns for hunting purposes, some Huaorani continue to make use of traditional hunting weaponry – namely, blowguns that can reach up to 11 feet in length. A full-length blowgun, complete with quiver and darts, is located in the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. In the past, these weapons held a more prominent position in Huaorani culture. In its prime, the blowgun was a remarkable influence in Huaorani kinship and social customs, and left a legacy that remains evident to this day.


Figure 3: Closeup of the end of a Huaorani blowgun. Notice that the blowgun is built from two sections of palm wood that have been reattached. From the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. 

The physical construction of these blowguns & their accessories sheds light on the immense skill possessed by these Huaorani craftsmen. Blowpipes are made from a split palm wood rod; the two halves are grooved, then reattached with beeswax and encased in vine bark. The Huaorani smooth out the opening created by the two grooves by placing sand inside the grooves and smoothing vertically with a slim, sturdy fishing lance. [1] Darts are created from the whittled stems of palm leaves and stored in a bamboo quiver. The Huaroani often apply curare, a potent neurotoxin, to these darts. [3] Other components of the Huaorani blowgun kit include a hollowed-out gourd filled with kapok (the fluff surrounding the seeds of Ceiba Petandra) [2] and a section of a piranha’s jaw, often attached to the rope connecting the gourd to the quiver.

When hunting with these blowguns, a wad of kapok is wrapped around the lower end of the dart. When the dart is inserted into the blowgun, air passing through the pipe will not pass around the sides of the dart but will build up behind the kapok wad, pushing the dart out of the blowgun at a high speed. [2] The Huaorani then use the sharp teeth on the piranha mandible to cut a deep notch on the front end of the dart. This ensures that the poisoned tip of the dart will break off in the intended target [3] and lead to its demise; the curare poison can kill an organism after just 2-3 minutes of exposure. [4] When firing the blowgun, the Huaorani build a tremendous amount of air pressure in their mouths and release it in one rapid exhalation into the blowgun, causing the dart to fly out at a high speed and with lethal accuracy. As the volume of the blowgun is less than a tenth than that of the human lung, the most important factor in firing a blowgun lies in the control of air expenditure exerted by Huaorani hunters, who are able to strike small targets (i.e., hummingbirds) upwards of 120 feet away. [3]

Take a look at the following videos for demonstration on the use of blowguns: Waorani (Huaorani) man demonstrating wrapping kapok around the darts & using the blowgun. Amazonian native, naturalist, and guide Juan Kunchikuy demonstrating the technique of modifying & firing darts at targets placed on the head of a New York Times reporter.


In Huaorani society, the significance of the blowgun encompassed many areas of their lives and culture. Prior to the introduction of shotguns in the 1970s, blowguns were viewed as symbolic tools used to monitor the social closeness between a variety of entities. One example lies in the close bond between the Huaorani and arboreal prey such as monkeys. The Huaorani hold a great deal of respect for these primates (esp. wooly monkeys) owing to their similarity in social structure and territoriality, going so far as to spare certain individuals while hunting and to share food sources with them. [1] When hunting monkeys, the Huaorani used the blowgun to down prey they feel a close social connection to, allowing the hunters to remove the spatial distance and social distance between them by using these primates for sustenance. [1]

In modern Huaorani culture, the blowgun no longer receives widespread use; its significance as a regulator of social proximity has also declined. However, its place in the Ethnology Collection at Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History ensures that its legacy and historical significance will always remain evident and relevant.

[Daniel Quintela]

[1] Descola, Philippe, and Gísli Pálsson. “Chapter 8: Blowpipes and Spears.” Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives. N.p.: Psychology, 1996. 145-65. Google Books. Google. Web. <>.  

[2]Smith, Nigel. “Oenocarpus Bataua.” Palms and People in the Amazon. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 401-12. Geobotany Studies. Springer Link. Springer International Publishing AG. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. < 1_50&*~hmac=caec4e8034004f90f686b3b44006eca9ccda4efeeff60aec2af86ff698194bb6>.  

[3] Talbot, Steve. In the Belly of the Beast: Technology, Nature and the Human Prospect. Ghent, NY: Nature Institute, 2004. The Nature Institute. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <>.

[4] TheNewYorkTimes. “Kristof in the Crosshairs: A Blowgun Showdown in the Amazon | The New York Times.” YouTube. Google, 07 May 2008. Web. 20 Apr. 2016. <>.

Object: Quiver, Bow, and Arrows

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Comanche arrows from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 2 Comanche Quiver from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 3 Comanche bow from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Quiver, Bow, and Arrows
North America: Southern Plains
Date: 1930
Materials: Wood, feathers, sinew, leather

These objects are common tools when it comes to studying Native Americans. Each tribe has their own way of making bows and arrows and different styles for use. These objects were used by the Comanche people. The bow is 42” long. The arrows are between approximately 22”-26” in length.

There are many things the Comanche are well-known for: one being horsemanship and another being the ability to successfully use the bow while riding on horseback. The size of the bow and arrows are short, making them very maneuverable while riding. Being able to aim easily from side to side while riding was crucial to survival for the Comanche. Not only is the length of the bow important, but the strength of it is also important. The wood used typically is Osage Orange or Bo Dark wood. Sinew is a very strong cordage obtained from the tendons of bison. Sinew is used for many different resources among plains Native Americans. The Comanche used it for many different reasons, and in this case it was tied together to form the string of the bow.

The quiver is used to carry the bow and arrows together, each having a special spot inside the quiver. The quiver is made primarily from bison or cow hide. The quiver can be decorated in a number of ways with beadwork and fringe. One resource implemented in the quiver is called the ‘boss man.’ This is an object with a round circular base that fits in the bottom of the quiver. The base is attached to a handle used to easily pull out the arrows that rest within the quiver.

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

Figure 4 Comanche Bow demonstration at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

The arrows in this collection are short in length to match the bow. The arrows measure between 22”-26” in length. This is very similar to other Comanche arrows studied. The arrow points were typically made from flint, but the Comanche adopted steel points after contact with new European settlers. The wood of the arrows is made from the straightest wood possible, dog wood. The fletching on the back end of the arrows is the Comanche style of Red Tail Hawk feathers. The tough material of sinew is used to tie on the arrow fletching.

To learn more about Comanche bows, arrows, and quivers, take a look at the below videos produced by the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center:

[Jared Wahkinney]



Object: Harpoon Head

Punuk, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Ivory

This ivory harpoon head comes from the tusk of a walrus, and was made by people of the Punuk Culture, a part of the Thule tradition. It was used for whaling, which is what the Punuk culture is known for. To the Punuk people and its descendants the making of the harpoon and harpoon head was a ceremony in itself. A walrus was only killed for its ivory, and it was as close to a sacred animal as possible to the Punuk people. There were ceremonies to prepare the ivory, after which it was carved very intricately. The carver added his personal mark in order to see which harpooner was the one that had the killing thrust.

The whales which were hunted by the Punuk people were bowhead whales, and the hunt involved the entire family. They assembled in a boat owned by the family and rode along the shoreline waiting for the whales to surface along the ice . When a whale surfaced, they went in for the kill. Cultural and religious beliefs support the use of every single part of the whale. After it has been processed, it goes out to all members of the family.

Many of the indigenous people living within the Arctic Circle practiced whaling, but it was not until the Punuk culture that it became the focus of their society. Some whalebone gravesites show that a particular family could have killed as many as 30 whales in a particular season with a tendency to go for the infant whales.

The modern descendants of the Punuk people still practice whaling using methods similar to those of their ancestors. While it may not be the main source of food anymore due to recent whaling laws, it remains an important part of the cultural lives of the indigenous people of the Arctic Circle.Here is an interesting video that show what happens during a whale hunt.

Work Cited

Alaskan Artifacts.
N.D.  A Brief Overview of the Arctics Cultural Periods.

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.

Hurst Gallery.
1998  Punuk 600-1200 AD.

[Manuel Marin]

Object: Stickball Sticks, and Balls

E/1947/3/2 a-c
Cherokee, Oklahoma
ca. 1940’s
Materials: Wood, rawhide, black thread, cloth, cotton

Creek, Oklahoma
ca. 1940’s
Materials: Wood, rawhide

Ball sticks are used to play a Native American sport called stickball. Many tribes originally from the southeastern United States still play the two stick version of stickball including the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Yuchi. The manner in which points are earned varies depending on the tribe. Some versions involve a pole with a figure, sometimes a fish or a skull, at the top of the pole and points can be earned by hitting this figure. Other versions of the game allow differing amounts of points to be earned depending how high up the ball makes contact with the pole.

Stickball is much more than a pastime for Native Americans. Many tribes will play stickball preceding and on the same grounds they use to stomp dance, an activity that holds great religious and social meaning. There are two main variations of the game: one which is played exclusively by men and one which is played by both men and women. The game  played exclusively by men was used in the past to settle disputes between tribes, giving it the name “Little Brother of War”. The amount of players allowed to participate ranged from twenty to as many as three hundred with the playing field changing size accordingly. Though these games could result in serious injury and even multiple players’ deaths, it was preferred to the casualties that would have resulted from warfare. Once one side won there was no dispute or retaliation by the other side because of the respect this game commanded.

The other version of stickball involves women and men. The men use these sticks and the women use their hands. Men are not allowed to touch the women, but the women can use whatever means available to score a goal. These sticks are usually made out of hickory wood and are soaked in hot water before shaped and tied with rawhide that is also used for the netting. Women are not allowed to touch the sticks that men use in the version played exclusively by men against men. The balls are made out of many different materials. At the center of the ball is a hard object, sometimes a hickory nut, piece of wood, or rock that is then padded with deer hair and covered with rawhide. To learn more about stickball check out this video.

Work cited

Cherokee Nation.
2014 Cherokee Stomp Dance.

2014 Stickball(a ne jo di).

Choctaw Nation Cultural Services.
2013  Stickball Team – Tvshka Homma.

Holmes, Baxter.
2011  Choctaw Stickball: A Fierce, Ancient Game Deep in Mississippi. Los Angeles Times.

Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
2011  Choctaw Stickball.

UGA Toli Team.
2004  Variations of Stickball.

[Mary Williams]

Object: Harpoon

North Alaska Inuit, Alaska, United States of America
Materials: Whale bone, Ivory, Wood, Leather

There are two types of heads for harpoons, the non-toggling head and the toggle head.  This harpoon is of the toggling type that was invented by ancestors of the Inuit people, and it continues to be modified and used today by hunters from all around the world. It is suggested that the toggling head was first used along the Bering Strait, the narrow passage between Alaska, Russia, and the Aleutian Island, but the exact origin is highly debated.  However, among the uncertainty there remains one consensus; it changed the way sea mammals would be hunted forever.  The technology emerged to enhance hunting techniques, because, in the original design, the non-toggling harpoon, the head was fixed to the end of the shaft.  This was effective, but the design was not perfect.  Even though the head was barbed, it could still be dislodged from the animal.  The toggling head was invented to resolve this problem.

In the toggle harpoon the head detaches from the weapon but remains connected to the harpoon by a leather line.  Once the head has penetrated the animal the separation allows the head to rotate and become more securely fixed under the hide.  This technique gives the hunter more leverage to pull the animal from the water and to remain attached until the animal becomes tired.  Additionally, when the head detaches from the weapon, the harpoon does not break against the ice when the animal dives back under the water.

The toggle harpoon has a long history of success.  Its earliest prototypes in 5500 BC began to improve the living conditions of the hunters and their families with its added efficiency, and the invention remained mostly the same until the 19th century.  In 1848 Lewis Temple, a former slave and blacksmith, revolutionized the technology with the addition of the iron head.  Since then, the makeup of the shafts and other parts of the bodies of harpoons continue to be modified, but the toggling head remains a constant in all of the new designs.  This Native American invention transformed sea mammal hunting and continues to thrive over 7,500 years later. To see a toggle head harpoon in action watch the movie below.

Work Cited

Fitzhugh, William W. ed J Prusinski
2004 Old Bering Sea Harpoon. Arctic Studies Center.

Forbes, Jack D.
2007   The American Discovery of Europe. University of Illinois Press. Ch. 6-7
Glenbow Museum
National Park Service.
2008  Lewis Temple and His Impact on 19th Century Whaling. National Parks Traveler.
NOAA Ocean Media Center
2012   People of the Seal.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History.
N.D. Whale Harpoons, or Temple Toggle Irons. On the Water.
[Madi Sussmann]

Object: Spear Head


Figure 1   Iron spear-head from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Museum

Iron spear-head
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to second century AD
Materials: Iron

This type of spear was used by the Roman auxiliary (“helper”) army, while the Roman legions (permanent army) preferred the pilum throwing spear.  The auxiliary army began in the late Republic (147-30 B.C.)  and used mounted troops.  In 52 B.C. Caesar began using Germans in the auxiliary since the German tribes were known for their horsemanship.  Auxiliaries were used throughout the Roman Empire.  This spear was likely used in the Roman auxiliary army and may have been held by a German.

It was illegal to sell Roman weapons to the Germans. Yet there is archaeological evidence that Roman weapons were in the hands of Germans.  Germans may not have gotten Roman weapons through trade, but Germans in the Roman army brought their weapons back to their homes in Germany.

Though spears were common weapons of the Roman military, they are difficult to classify since usually only the iron head survives.  There are multiple ancient Roman terms used to describe spears, such as hasta, lancea, verutum, speculum, tela, and missilis.  These words were used by ancient authors to describe spears with little to no differentiation of the type of spears they refer to. Modern authors also use different terms to describe the same artifacts.  Spears may also be referred to as lances.  The ambiguity in terms makes it difficult to classify spears based on shape and use.

The butt of spears sometimes survives since they are made of iron.  The wooden shafts of spears are rarely found because wood does not preserve as well as iron.  Shafts were commonly made of ash or hazel. Spears could be used for thrusting in hand-to-hand combat or as missiles thrown at enemies from a distance. Spears, like this one, had forged iron heads with sockets to attach to the wooden shaft.  Socketed spear heads were common from the first to the second century A.D.

This spear at the museum is 9.25 inches (23.5 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) at its widest point.  Its hole for attaching to the shaft is 1.1 inch (2.8 cm) in diameter.  The blade is leaf-shaped, meaning it is wider towards the bottom and narrows to a point at the tip.  It also has a midrib, or raised section cutting across the center of the head, and a closed socket.  As mentioned, the socketed spear heads were common from the first to second century A.D., so this spear may date to this period.

Similar spear heads come from Neuss, Germany and various areas across England.  They are all extra-long socketed spearheads with the leaf-shaped narrow blade. The large size of the spearheads indicates they were likely used for hand-to-hand fighting, not throwing. The Roman legionary often used the pilum that could pierce armor.  The leaf-shaped spears of the auxiliary were not as good at piercing armor.  Instead, they could be thrown against an unarmored enemy or used in hand-to-hand combat, aiming for any unprotected areas between the enemy’s armor.  The large size of the Sam Noble spear indicates it was used for hand-to-hand combat.

The following link has videos of what Roman Auxilaries and Roman cavalry would have looked like:

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006 Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Feugére, Michel

2002 Weapons of the Romans. Translated by David G. Smith.  Charleston, South Carolina: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

James, Edward

2009 Europe’s Barbarians AD 200 – 600. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Sim, D. and J. Kaminski

2012 Roman Imperial Armour: The Production of Early Imperial Military Armour. Wales: Oxbow Books.

Object: Spear Head


Figure 1    Iron spear-head from Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum

Iron Spear-head
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to second century AD
Materials: Iron

Early in Germanic history, numerous Germanic tribes settled from the mouth of the Rhine River to the Middle Danube River (James 208).  Around the first century A.D. Romans and Germans came in contact across the two rivers.  This contact included fighting and trading (James 208).  German tribes gained goods as well as ideas from the Roman Empire (James 208).  Roman writers described the Germani people as barbarian savages who were occasionally noble (James 208).

This spearhead at the Sam Noble Museum was found in the Hesse region of Germany.  It was found near Limes Germanicus in the Taunus Mountains, which were the border regions of the Roman Empire.  This spear and several other Roman artifacts have been found in this region of Germany.

The limes included the areas on either side of the border, both the Roman controlled side and the area under Germanic control (Feugére 216).  The limes Germanicus was the area where the Roman Empire interacted with German tribes.  They were densely settled with Roman forts, towers, and camps to hold the border, all of which were connected by roads (Feugére 216).  German settlements in the limes area existed so that the tribes could trade with the Romans.  The Rhine and Danube Rivers were used to transport goods along the border (James 145).

Archaeologically it is difficult to analyze settlements along the limes.  Since there were cultural as well as material exchanges between Romans and Germans, it is hard to tell the difference between the material culture of both groups. There is little context for this spear.  It was collected during 1899-1900.  There is no exact excavation location for this spear and it has no date range for when it was created.  With so little context, it is unclear if the Roman spear was last in use by Romans or Germans.  However, this spear is similar to Roman-made spears from other areas of the Roman Empire.

Since the Roman Empire traded goods with many regions, the spear may have been made elsewhere and taken to Germany, or it may have been made in Germany.  Or, the iron for the spear may have come from another area in the empire and then worked in Germany.  Iron was often first turned into ingots, pieces of processed metal, that were sent to other areas to be worked into a useable product (King 122).  Some of Roman iron production was under imperial control (King 122).  In Gaul, modern France, especially there is evidence for the manufacture of iron weapons that were sent to Germany for the Roman army (King 122).  In the early first century A.D., southern Gaul made weapons for Germania Superior and northern Gaul made weapons for the Roman army in Germania Inferior (King 122).  Later in the first century, the Roman military in Germany established their own workshops so they did not have to import iron and weapons from Gaul (King 122).  Trier, a Roman city, was the major iron production center in Germany (King 122).  With no known date for this spear, it is unclear if this spearhead was made in Gaul or Germany.  Analysis of the iron and the production method may shed some light on this question.

The spearhead at the museum is 10.5 inches (26.7 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) at its widest point.  The blade is leaf-shaped, which is distinct from other types of Roman spears like the pilum that had a pyramid-shaped blade.  The leaf-shaped spear has a socket on the end where it was attached to the wooden shaft.  Socketed spear heads were common from the first to second century A.D., so this spear may date to this period.  The Sam Noble spear is similar to a spear from Neuss, another area of Germany.  The other iron spear is called an extra-long socketed spearhead and has similar dimensions to the Sam Noble example. A few spearheads found in England also appear to be of the same shape.  One spear from England has a leaf-shaped blade with a conical socket for attaching to the wooden shaft (Manning 160).  However, the size of this spearhead is much smaller (Manning 160).  It appears that the Sam Noble’s spear is unique in its large size, though it has the common leaf-shaped blade.

To learn more about the Limes Germanicus and the current archaeological work being conducted there, take a look at this video:

 [Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006  Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Feugére, Michel

2002 Weapons of the Romans. Translated by David G. Smith.  Charleston, South Carolina: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

James, Edward

2009  Europe’s Barbarians AD 200 – 600. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

King, Anthony

1990  Roman Gaul and Germany. Berkeley: University of California.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Simpson, Grace

2000 Roman Weapons, Tools, Bronze Equipment and Brooches from Neuss –  Novaesium Excavations 1955-1972. BAR International Series 862. England: Biddles Ltd.

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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