A secret Roman terror weapon was recently discovered in Scotland. Rarely used, these “whistling” sling bullets were part of psychological warfare designed to strike fear into the heart of the enemies.
A small collection of bullets with carefully drilled holes in them were discovered on a hill in Scotland. The bullets, believed to be about 1,800 years old, were deadly weapons in the hands of expert slingers who would shoot them into the enemy territory with the intention of terrorizing them with the shrill and piercing sounds the bullets made as they traveled above the enemy. The tiny holes, which were expertly drilled into the small bullets, were designed to allow the bullets to travel at high speeds through the air and make terrifying shrieking sound, speculated the archaeologists who unearthed them.
The whistling sling bullets aren’t commonly found. The rare collection of the bullets was discovered at Burnswark Hill in southwestern Scotland, reported Current Archaeology. The region holds special interest primarily because it was the location for a very intense battle between invading Romans and the native defenders. The battle took place in a fort that was on top of a hill overlooking the flatlands below. The battle happened sometime in the second century.
It is strongly believed the bullets served a more psychological purpose apart from being used to hurt. These cast lead bullets aren’t large in dimension. Weighing just about 30 grams each, the sling bullets, however, have carefully drilled singular holes in each of them that’s about 0.2 inches in diameter, reported the Daily Mail. The holes served as air intake and the velocity with which they were shot helped the bullets generate either a whistling or buzzing sound depending on the way they were hurled by expert slingers.
According to archaeologist John Reid of the Trimontium Trust, it is these holes that made the bullets an acoustic weapon that may have been a significant part of psychological warfare.
“You don’t just have these silent but deadly bullets flying over; you’ve got a sound effect coming off them that would keep the defenders’ heads down. Every army likes an edge over its opponents, so this was an ingenious edge on the permutation of sling bullets.”
The expert slingers could send the whistling sling bullets hurtling through the air at 100 mph. At such speeds, they could easily hurt, maim, or even kill. The slingers may have been tasked with designing and fabricating the sling bullets as well, speculate the researchers. Besides the intensity needed to throw these bullets, the craftsmen had to carefully drill holes in each and every one of them in order to get the maximum impact.
While the archeologists haven’t found any neatly preserved slings that were used to fire these bullets, it is believed they were made with two long cords that had a pouch attached for holding the bullets, reported the International Business Times. Depending on the spread of the enemy, the slingers may have shot multiple bullets in a single throw, achieving a “scattergun effect,” added Reid.
“You can easily shoot them in groups of three of four, so you get a scattergun effect. We think they’re for close-quarter skirmishing, for getting quite close to the enemy.”
Sound has been an integral part of warfare. There have been documented instances of shrill or high-pitched sounds being used to scare the enemy. Besides war-calls, instruments like the “death whistle” has been used to instil fear.
What makes this a special find is that till date, archeologists haven’t found evidence of these lead sling bullets anywhere else. However, ceramic sling bullets with similarly punched holes have been found at battle sites in Greece from the second and third centuries B.C., added Reid, reported Live Science.
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