Evidence #179 | April 5, 2021


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Slings, which are frequently mentioned in the Book of Mormon, were used in military contexts in ancient Mesoamerica during Book of Mormon times.

Slings in the Book of Mormon

Slings are frequently mentioned as a weapon in the Book of Mormon. Nephi and his brothers used slings in the Old World to slay animals while they were traveling through the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:15, 23). Ammon used a sling with deadly effectiveness when defending King Lamoni’s flocks and servants (Alma 17:36, 38; 18:16). Both the Nephites and the Lamanites used the sling as a projectile weapon during their battles (Mosiah 9:16; 10:8; Alma 2:12; 3:5; 43:20). The Nephites also used it to great advantage from within their fortifications (Alma 49:20). While some critics have claimed that the sling was not known in the Americas during Book of Mormon times,1 the archaeological and historical record demonstrates otherwise.

A Lamanite Slinging Stones at Ammon. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org.

The Sling Among the Aztec and the Maya 

The conquistador Bernal Diaz reported that slingstones were a perpetual menace to the Spanish soldiers and their allies during their battles with the Aztecs. “Their slingers did us infinite mischief,” he wrote on one occasion.2 He frequently described the stones from slings as falling like hail from the sky. “I do not know how else to describe it, and no one would understand me who was not there. But they really were more numerous than hailstones, and quickly covered the causeway.”3 The Spanish soldiers were frequently injured even though they wore armor.4 Slings were also a common weapon of the Maya in highland Guatemala.5

Artistic and Linguistic Evidence for the Sling

Slings are portrayed in post-Columbian codices, but rarely in pre-Columbian art.6 This skewed artistic representation may be because the sling was not considered to be a weapon of the elite.7 There was, however, a Maya word for sling by at least 1000 BC.8

Depiction of men using slings in the Florentine Codex (1575-1580). 

Early Use of the Sling in Mesoamerica

Ross Hassig, an authority on ancient Mesoamerican warfare, believes the sling was an important Olmec weapon from at least 900 BC.9 Due to the perishable material of which slings are made (leather, cotton, or plant fibers), none have survived, but numerous slingstones have been identified by archaeologists from Olmec sites.10 According to Hassig, “the sling’s high rate of fire, great range (up to five hundred meters has been reported elsewhere in the world), and effectiveness gave the Olmecs both an offensive and a defensive capability unmatched elsewhere at that time.”11

Slingstones have also been found at the site of La Victoria in Guatemala in association with artifacts dating to 1000–700 BC.12 Archaeologist Gareth Lowe found reported caches of numerous rounded slingstones at several pre-Classic and Early Classic sites in western Chiapas, Mexico.13 And slingstones have been identified at Teotihuacan14 and at Classic Maya sites in southern Mexico and Guatemala.15


Eyewitness accounts of Aztec warfare demonstrate that the sling was an effective and deadly weapon. Such accounts, along with post-Columbian artistic representations of the weapon, are validated by early linguistic data and especially by archaeological discoveries of slingstones at pre-Columbian sites. These different lines of evidence demonstrate that the Mesoamerican sling had a long history spanning thousands of years, a picture consistent with references to that weapon in the record of the Nephites.

John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 417.

John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America: Visualizing Book of Mormon Life (Provo, UT: Research Press, 1998), 130–131.

Mosiah 9:16Mosiah 10:8Alma 2:12Alma 3:5Alma 17:7Alma 17:36Alma 17:38Alma 18:16Alma 43:20Alma 49:19–20Alma 49:22

Mosiah 9:16

Mosiah 10:8

Alma 2:12

Alma 3:5

Alma 17:7

Alma 17:36

Alma 17:38

Alma 18:16

Alma 43:20

Alma 49:19–20

Alma 49:22

  • 1 See Thomas Key, The Book of Mormon in the Light of Science, Fifteenth edition (Marlow, OK: Utah Missions, 1997), 69.
  • 2 Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J.M. Cohen (London: Penguin Books, 1963), 404.
  • 3 Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 364; see also pp. 149, 330, 339. His fellow soldiers described them in similar terms. According to Cortes, “the stones from their slings came down on us within the fortress as if they were raining from the sky.” Hernando Cortes: Five Letters 1519–1526, trans. J. Bayard Morris (New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 1969), 109. Francisco de Aguilar similarly mentioned that the “sky seemed to rain stones.” Francisco de Aguilar, The Conquistadors: First Person Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico, trans. Patricia de Fuentes (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 153.
  • 4 See Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, 364.
  • 5 See Domingo Juarros, A Statistical and Commercial History of the Kingdom of Guatemala, trans. J. Baily (London: John Hearne, 1823), 186, 390, 393, 445, 460, 464–465.
  • 6 See Ross Hassig, Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988), 80–81, 288n.42.
  • 7 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 7, 73.
  • 8 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 205n.51.
  • 9 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 28.
  • 10 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 29.
  • 11 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 29.
  • 12 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 190n.91.
  • 13 See Gareth W. Lowe, “Southern Olmecs and Pre-Classic Zoques in Western Chiapas: Summary of Research and Writing, 1993,” manuscript produced for the New World Archaeological Foundation, March 1994, 42–45. See also, John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2013), 417.
  • 14 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 47.
  • 15 See Hassig, War and Society in Ancient Mesoamerica, 73; Tom Clynes, “Lasers Reveal Maya War Ruins,” National Geographic, March 1, 2019, accessed November 26, 2019, online at nationalgeographic.com; Alejandra Roche Recinos, Omar Firpi, Ricardo Rodas, “Evidence for Slingstones and Related Projectile Stone Use by the Ancient Maya of the Usumacinta River Valley Region,” Ancient Mesoamerica (2021).
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