Modern Navajos may be best known for creating an unbreakable military code during World War II and developing an impressive knowledge of metallurgy. However, their ancestors were skilled hunters and fighters who utilized a variety of weapons produced through sophisticated craftsmanship. Navajos utilized centuries of knowledge to design and produce aesthetically unique weapons, which warriors would use in defense and offense alike.
Clubs are among the earliest and most useful weapons developed by humans, and Navajos are no exception. In skilled hands, clubs cause blunt-force trauma resulting in injuries as mild as bruises and as devastating as cracked skulls. Navajo war clubs consisted of a carved wooden base attached to a rounded stone "head." The combination of two different materials made the clubs lightweight enough to move quickly, yet hard enough to deliver a finishing blow in battle.
Spearing from a Distance
Spears also have a long history, but Navajos and other indigenous American groups perfected the technology. Rather than utilizing spears as primitive stabbing weapons, Navajo weapon makers knapped sharp edges out of flint, attaching them to straight poles to create a streamlined weapon. Dave Brewer, writing for The New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies, notes that Southwestern tribes such as the Navajo utilized the long, concave atlatls, or spear-throwers, long before they took up the bow and arrow. They would place the blunt ends of their spears into the closed end of the atlatl. The atlatl would effectively increase the arm's length, enabling the thrower to aim and project spears into enemy armies from longer distances.
A Smaller Projectile
Navajo spears had relatively small flint heads, but their arrows were smaller still. Southwestern tribes did not use the bow and arrow heavily until around A.D. 500. Moreover, because Navajos relied on stealth, their bows were not designed to project arrows over long distances. Instead, short, stout bows allowed warriors to injure or kill their opponents after sneaking within range. Navajo fletchers would carefully insert feathers at the blunt ends to create aerodynamic fletchings, while leather workers would create wrist guards to support and protect archers' wrists during battle.
The Cutting Edge
In addition to knapping exceptionally sharp spearheads and arrowheads, Navajo flint workers crafted knives for civilians and warriors alike. Weapons makers would attach the sharp, flint blade to a handle of wood or bone with leather lashings. This method both attached the blade and handle securely and allowed craftsmen to replace either the flint or the handle should the knife become damaged in battle. Knives worked best in close quarters, but some warriors might also throw them, depending on his weapon supply and the proximity of his opponent.
- Native Languages: Native American Indian Weapons
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Navajo
- Navajo Nation: History
- Native Net: Native American Weapons
- Museum of Anthropology: Wrist Guards
- Museum of Anthropology: Archery Equipment of the Americas
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Bow and Arrow
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Spear
- The New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies: How to Make: A Replica Native American Bow
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