Republication from livescience.com/

Some of the Roman sling bullets found at the Burnswark Hill battle site in Scotland. The two smallest bullets, shown at the bottom of this image, are drilled with a hole that makes them whistle in flight.
(Image: © John Reid/Trimontium Trust)

Some 1,800 years ago, Roman troops used “whistling” sling bullets as a “terror weapon” against their barbarian foes, according to archaeologists who found the cast lead bullets at a site in Scotland.

Weighing about 1 ounce (30 grams), each of the bullets had been drilled with a 0.2-inch (5 millimeters) hole that the researchers think was designed to give the soaring bullets a sharp buzzing or whistling noise in flight.

The bullets were found recently at Burnswark Hill in southwestern Scotland, where a massive Roman attack against native defenders in a hilltop fort took place in the second century A.D. [See Photos of Roman Battle Site and Sling Bullets]

These holes converted the bullets into a “terror weapon,” said archaeologist John Reid of the Trimontium Trust, a Scottish historical society directing the first major archaeological investigation in 50 years of the Burnswark Hill site.

“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,” Reid told Live Science. “Every army likes an edge over its opponents, so this was an ingenious edge on the permutation of sling bullets.”

The whistling bullets were also smaller than typical sling bullets, and the researchers think the soldiers may have used several of them in their slings — made from two long cords held in the throwing hand, attached to a pouch that holds the ammunition — so they could hurl multiple bullets at a target with one throw.

“You can easily shoot them in groups of three of four, so you get a scattergun effect,” Reid said. “We think they’re for close-quarter skirmishing, for getting quite close to the enemy.”

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