The An Introduction to the Atlatl

Atlatl Display

Being fascinated by Anthropology since I was a child, one of the things that amazes me is the primitive technology, especially around weapons. Bows and arrows, spears, the atlatl, rabbit sticks…

Wait, what?! An atl what ll?

I had seen sketches and images of spears being thrown at wooly mammoths as well as other animals. However, one day I saw a peculiar way for a spear to be thrown. After years of searching, I finally found out it was called an atlatl.

The atlatl was originally designed to throw a spear farther than what was humanly possible at the time. Man needed a way to kill food and still provide a safe distance so they could live another day. It was all about survival.

As an extension of the arm, a spear or dart could be thrown further and with more speed than just throwing a spear normally. No one really knows why or how it came into being except for the necessity of distance and speed.

For clarity, the atlatl is not the dart being thrown, but the actual throwing mechanism. Early history reports the first one was created from a reindeer bone but throughout history the atlatl has varied from bone to wood or in some cases, grasses such as bamboo.

Another historical fact is, Africa is the only continent to not have any history of the atlatl. I find this interesting since that seems to be the starting point for all mankind.

While used for hunting, the atlatl was also used as a defense tool. Many of the Aztecs had embedded glass or obsidian on the sides to use as a knife or hatchet or club once the dart had been thrown. Much like the tomahawk for the Native Americans and Norsemen, the atlatl would prove to be a very deadly weapon when used against another man.

So why the interest now in something that was used so many years ago and has been replaced by modern items such as a bow and arrow?

Simple. We learn from our past and if you are like me, it fascinates you. I want to know what the weapon feels like. I want to see how it works. I want to experience my past for two reasons.

First, I just enjoy it. It is a great feeling and one of the reasons I like history and anthropology.

Secondly, if the need ever rises and we somehow go back to the stone age, I want to know that I can take care of me and mine. While this is not a likely scenario, the thought process behind it is not too far off. “There will be wars and rumors of wars…”

What does this mean for you? I am not sure but I do urge you to check it out. There is an entire atlatl association that has try-outs to be named the best in the world. Folks like Matt Graham and my buddy Kau’i Morehead have both been involved with the International Standard Accuracy Contest (ISAC).

I have witnessed this contest first hand. Some of the contestants did not impress me because they used carbon fiber darts and some two piece take-down darts. I am a fan of the river cane and stone knapped tip dart myself.

While dart choice is preference, especially for professional throwers, the atlatl has one main requirement, a spur. This spur is designed to securely nock the dart in order for it to be thrown accurately. Hold points are where there are many variations and as you can see in the accompanying photograph, they can be functionally adorned.

The adornment can be added weight to help with accuracy or comfort. Or it simply, just looks nice. Many of them even tell a story.

So get outside, give it a try. Check out the accompanying video to get a little more visual insight. Check out some of the other posts such as the Hunter-Gatherer.

Until then,

Use your instincts to survive

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