Handheld weapons preceded weapons designed to kill or incapacitate from a distance. Such weapons included wooden clubs and pointed sticks eventually leading to pointed, stone-tipped spears, and knives, daggers, and swords made from wood or stone.

The desire to propel some form of missile through the air to kill or injure a foe originated with primitive humans but this was probably not the initial objective. It is highly likely that the original reason was the necessity to hunt and kill dangerous animals for food and clothing, and for obvious reasons a weapon capable of killing from a safe distance would be highly desirable.

The first projectiles were probably stones and pointed wooden sticks which were initially thrown by hand. These developed through various stages including flint-tipped spears and arrows, eventually leading to propulsion using slings, throwing sticks, catapults, bows, and so forth, all of which gave the projectiles greater range, greater velocity, and consequently greater wounding power.

A major development in human armament was the discovery of metal and the ability to work metal, and this rapidly led to metal knives, daggers, and swords and metal-tipped spears and arrows. These were much superior to the wooden and stone weapons, and were used for many years until the development of a handheld weapon that surpassed all others and that had a profound effect on human history—the firearm.

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