I have a race of carnivorous mammals living in a very resource-poor environment. Due to a mixture of lack of resources (no metal, no wood or tough stems, etc) and cultural taboos, they are only allowed to build weapons out of materials taken from living animals that they have killed (finding a long-dead corpse or using coal or oil taken from long-dead creatures would not be valid). Plants could technically be allowed, but only algae-like slime and lichen are available.

They have access to tough fabrics such as leather and plenty of bones, along with any other part of the animal that might be useful (tendons and so forth). Stone may be used in small amounts, but the "frame" of the weapon, along with any damage-inflicting parts (blades or projectiles) must be biological in origin. Gunpowder-like explosives and oxidizers can be derived from the rocks and may be used in small quantities.

My race preys upon very small (rat-sized) and very large (elephant-sized) animals, so bones can be made arbitrarily large or small. Their physical strength is comparable to very well-conditioned humans.

How advanced or effective of a weapon could be created under these circumstances? I'm primarily interested in the possibility of shotgun or pistol-like projectile weapons, but I'd also be interested to learn about what kind of restrictions might be placed on melee weapons. Bonus points for hypothesizing the construction of heavy artillery, flamethrowers (possibly powered by animal fat?), rocket-launchers, or other interesting weapons.

I'm most interested in weapons of war. This race tends to settle personal conflicts with their own claws and teeth. If it makes a difference, these weapons are intended for use against humans with WW1-era armaments.


Specific issues I'm thinking of:

  • Weapon lifetime (effects of use of weapon condition).
  • I'm guessing needle-like bone splinters would be the most effective ammunition. Is this true? (I'm thinking about density and muzzle velocity but I don't know any numbers).
  • Aerodynamics, range, and penetrating/stopping power of projectiles (most likely bone).
  • Ammunition details: are clip-based reloads or full-auto triggers possible? (I doubt it).
  • Structural strength of weapon: could a bone shotgun be used to bludgeon, or would this severely damage the weapon?
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    $\begingroup$ You question is fine, but I don't see why you reference "Prey" in the title - it doesn't seem to be required or relevant information. If you want to seed answers so that people know where you got the idea from, state it at the end of the question. Otherwise, nice question and welcome to WB! $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Oct 12 '14 at 23:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ivy_lynx I think it was supposed to be a very bad pun. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 12 '14 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I understand what pun you mean, but I have a better explanation - I'm waiting for the OP to confirm :P edit - scratch that, my hunch was wrong, it seems to indeed be a pun when read together with the question :P I actually like the title now. $\endgroup$ – mechalynx Oct 12 '14 at 23:38
  • $\begingroup$ It was not a pun (are you referencing Grey's Anatomy? I never thought of that). My original title was "Constructing Projectile Weapons from Biologically Derived Materials", but I thought it was important to clarify that not just anything that was once alive (e.g. oil and the plastics derived from it) could be used. Feel free to edit if you think the title needs help. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Oct 12 '14 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ Slings, Bolas and composite bows (if you have a flexible core) are all possible $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Oct 13 '14 at 9:09

As far as major weapons that could could be developed with those constraints:

  • If your civilization has the chemical chops to develop Gunpowder then they probably can get other war chemicals like Dunnite, Picric Acid, and Mustard Gas pretty easily.
  • Glue, shellac, and paper are definitely available.
  • You can make strong structures using layered paper.
  • Cannons can be made of lacquered paper, bone, or horn.
  • Longbows and Horn bows are relatively effective if everyone is strong and trained to use them.


  • Low-velocity shotguns and harpoons could be developed from the cannon.
  • Small catapults might be developed using collections of large bones and tendons.
  • Flamethrowers would be like bag pipes if they developed.
  • $\begingroup$ Answer from a text file that I forgot to post. Going to seem like a copy given how little you can actually do. Figured I'd at least throw it up since it was done. Flamethrower stolen from OP (that was quite a good idea). $\endgroup$ – Black Oct 13 '14 at 16:09
  • $\begingroup$ Where would they get the paper? $\endgroup$ – Epiglottal Axolotl Oct 14 '14 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Stendika I meant paper as in made of cellulose (papyrus, etc.), you can always make something resembling paper as long as you have enough plants. In this case algae is our cellulose source. While not as easy to make paper from as wood, it's doable. (Heck you can make paper using the cellulose in a sponge by shredding then ironing it). $\endgroup$ – Black Oct 14 '14 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ You have guns and catapult, but what hard and dense material do you intend to throw with those? Kidney stones? $\endgroup$ – Madlozoz Feb 25 '16 at 19:04
  • $\begingroup$ you could use shaped teeth for ammunition. $\endgroup$ – John Dec 30 '16 at 19:15

I'm going for the bonus points and proposing fire based weapons!

As a carnivorous race your mammals would likely want to consume bone marrow from the bones of the creatures they kill; its nutritious for one but the hollow bones are easy to dry and carve once cleaned.

These hollow bones could form the basis of primitive pump based flame throwers, blow guns, and even simple incendiary type grenades!

Blow guns: pretty self explanatory but they may have added on a "gas bladder" made of something like treated leather that allows for longer range/power then just using lung power alone.

Flame throwers: similar to the blow gun, these would pump oil/fat using primitive pumps past a flame source. Basically a bone and leather super soaker.

Incendiary grenades: hollowed bones that are packed with oil/fat and have a small amount of the gun powder you mentioned would allow a leather sealed container with a fabric fuse to detonate and project flaming oil and fat (plus bone shards) in a small area.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this! Chemical weaponry might be the best bet. $\endgroup$ – Tigt Oct 13 '14 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the image of an another world's Hector and Achilles charging at each other with bone and leather super soakers, spewing fire. $\endgroup$ – Vectornaut Jul 19 '15 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ Methane could be involved for an extra "oomf". All it takes is farting in something to get methane. $\endgroup$ – Hawker65 Sep 10 '18 at 13:23

The big issue with firearms composed of bone is their regularity; or lack thereof.

Guns and bullets are machined very exactly, as any irregularities greatly reduce efficacy and the lifespan of the gun. And once you start outfitting an army, standardized parts are an absolute requirement for manufacturing on any scale.

You can have the bones of arbitrary strength and size, but if they're shaped differently beyond some very strict tolerances, you won't get further than muskets and siege engines, or any weaponry produced before the Industrial Revolution. And since they're bones, well, they will differ. This goes for anything more advanced than a gun as well.

However, if any of their prey has natural weapons, they might be able to use those instead.

  • $\begingroup$ You can make shotgun with crude cylinder $\endgroup$ – Madlozoz Feb 25 '16 at 19:06

There did exist such a thing as wooden cannons

They were notoriously weak though and were usually only good for a few shots before bursting, however you could hypothesize something similar being made from large bones and sinew.

For personal firearms again you could do something similar but the gun would be more likely to explode than fire and you would have terrible accuracy.

Firearms are unlikely to develop simply because you cannot make them consistent enough or strong enough unless you hypothesize that the prey animals have extremely strong bones or the natives in question develop some way to strengthen them. Considering how much they would be working with bones as a raw material it would make sense that they know how to get the most out of them.

For example a bone wrapped in sinew and soaked in some special liquid X (just invent a name) for a week then wrapped again and dusted with powder Y then allowed to dry hardens into an extremely strong material. They can then work that material to produce the equivalent of old-school muzzle loading firearms and produce cannons with similar effectiveness to metal ones.

If you don't want to do that then for personal combat something like bows would be your best bet. They can be built from bones and sinew and arrows can also be made from those materials. For larger scale conflicts then catapults and trebuchet could in theory be made if you have access to large enough bones and/or good ways to bind them together.

  • $\begingroup$ leather cannon also (as featured on Mythbusters) $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Oct 13 '14 at 8:48

Others have suggested weapons, here are some suggestions for explosive ammunition and fuel for those guns, cannons and grenades:

Phosphours can be extracted from bone and urine. This element can ignite when exposed to open air and a type of phosphorous has been used in in bombs.

Posit the existence of something like the Bombardier beetle to provide the explosive production of gas, needed to eject a bullet or cannon-ball.

Mixing acids and bases or mixing water into a strong acid produces heat and gas, enough for a bomb or to propel a cannon-ball. Stomach acid is readily available.

The plant hormone ethylene, released by ripening fruit, can react with sulfur dichloride, found in volcanoes, the ocean, biological decay and forest fires. When combined using the "Depretz method", they produce mustard gas.

Alcohol - Add sugar and yeast, produce explosion. Look here for a delightfully instructive video on how best to produce alcohol explosions.

Dust explosions. If something can burn, it can often do so explosively when ground into a fine powder and mixed with air. A hazard in the industry, so-called dust explosions have taken place with both powdery sugar and dust in grain silos.

Manure-explosions. Several times have hog farms exploded because the manure has released the flammable gases hydrogen sulfide and methane. The gases collect in the building until a spark sets off a deadly explosion.

Do not try this at home. Or on planets that have friendly relations with us.


One projectile weapon that could be possible is the native american Atl-Atl. the "handle" could easily be made from the long bones of any large prey animal. It could be used to propel darts or spears made from laminated papers and tipped with bone if wood is not available. As a device, it pre-dates the bow and arrow.

Also, never underestimate an old style sling. A strip of leather and a handful of rocks and a dash of skill and you have a lethal weapon. Coat the slingstones with leather and bone spurs to deal extra damage and to meet the observances.

A strip of leather ending on a bladder of some sort filled with something flammable and you might have something fire based throw at an enemy from a long range. Encase the bladder in a dried out old skull for shrapnel and to meet religious observances

For in close fighting, a long bone based mace would be very easy. A rock on a string attached to a long bone gives a very primitive morning star or flail. again tip with bone fragments.

The long bones of really large prey animals could be hollowed out to hold an explosive compound with a simple fuse and you have a fairly simple fragmentation grenade. You could also build a Korean Hwacha for a doomsday machine. See the myth busters episode to see this thing in action.

Lots of options for primitive weaponry are available here. Mix and match with the chemical stuff in other answers and you can have a terrifying race.



Nature excels at creating neurotoxins which can cause severe pain, hallucinations, confusion, paralysis, terror and/or death.

You could make cannon which fire a cloud of tiny poisoned darts. Not only would these be extremely painful or fatal if hit, but they can litter the battlefield on front of advancing enemies and sting their feet or just slow their movements.

You can coat the edges of your melee weapons with poisons extracted from various creatures. You could probably even create teargas or hallucinogenic gas shells to fire into the enemy ranks.


This question is a difficult one because nature and evolution is far better at coming up with solutions that Human ingenuity ever will be. The Bombardier beetle can spray a mix of Hydroxy Phenol and Hydrogen Peroxide from it's abdomen when disturbed. This is similar stuff used in early liquid fueled rockets and made famous by the German Me163 Komet rocket fighter plane of WWII. When making a rocket, all the container has to do is contain the explosion and survive the generated heat until the fuel is spent. A bombardier beetle's bottom is far better at doing that than anything we humans can make even now. The most common container for a firework rocket is cardboard which is not as strong and much heavier than bone.


Well, you can make a functional sword out of biological material. Heres the process:

  1. Slaughter 3-400 people.

  2. Drain their blood.

  3. Burn away impurities and boil off fats and other substances.

  4. The take the handy mixture of iron and carbon leftover and smelt it into steel to fashion weapons wether guns or swords or other weaponry.

  5. Use bone and leather to use for stocks and grips for steel weapons.

In conclusion, you could make effective weaponry, it'd just be a slow and painstaking process and turn you nation into a frenzied murder cult. This is because 3-400 people only yields you a couple pounds of smeltable material.

So metal would be a rare commodity. Only the greatest warriors who would kill many enemies would get to use metal weapons forged of the blood fo their victims.

These weapons would most likely be heirlooms and be made by expert craftsmen and passed down the family for generations.

The nation would probably end up fighting like the aztecs, focusing on capturing enemies rather than killing and taking them back to sacrifice them and draining their blood to make weapons on an industrial scale. They could also use the blood from their food to make these weapons.

Then again they would be easily swept aside by an industrialized ww1 equipped nation, because ww1 style weaponry includes machine guns and artillery, which would be near impossible to do properly without access to proper metal, stone, or wood.

  • $\begingroup$ this is way to impractical to be useful in any real life situation $\endgroup$ – Andrey Mar 12 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrey That's the point, only the greatest warriors would have a weapon like this. It would be a weapon of the elites. $\endgroup$ – Efialtes Mar 12 at 20:58
  • $\begingroup$ They would still be no match for 3 guys with a long sharp bone on a stick. The enemy has rifles and Tommy guns.This in no way helps OP understand how these people would fight. $\endgroup$ – Andrey Mar 12 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ Well, you don't have to use this steel specifically for melee weapons, you could make a shotgun using some sort of leather shell casing and bone slug. $\endgroup$ – Efialtes Mar 12 at 21:04

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