While attending the Ohio Pawpaw Festival in Athens, I got the opportunity to try out an ancient weapon — the atlatl. The atlatl is also known as a spear thrower; although, today the spear is referred to as a dart. Since the dart is fletched with feathers, it looks a like a really long arrow. The atlatl was used by the earliest Paleoindian cultures in Ohio. It continued to be the primary weapon of Native Americans in Ohio until it was displaced by the bow and arrow in the late woodland period.
To nock the dart is to fit it into the atlatl. The grooved back-end of the dart is fitted into the hook at the back of the atlatl. When using our atlatls, the mid-portion of the dart rested in a "V" at the front of the atlatl. The user holds the front end of the atlatl and swings it overhand like a tennis racket to drive the dart forward. The lever action of the atlatl provides much more forward momentum to the dart than merely throwing it. A hunter equipped with an atlatl can effectively take down an animal at up to 110 yards (100 meters). The dart hurled by the atlatl can reach a speed of 93 mph (136.4 fps or 150 kph).
Atlatl enthusiasts around the country build their own atlatls and run demonstration events and competitions, such as the one at the Ohio Pawpaw festival. Experienced throwers were holding a competition not far from us novices.
The state of Missouri allows hunters to use atlatls to hunt deer and turkey. In Missouri, this year’s bow hunting / atlatl deer season is already underway. Note: Ohio does NOT allow use of atlatls for hunting.
The word ‘atlatl’ comes from the Aztec language. I’ve heard it pronounced ‘atil-atil’ and ‘aht-latil’. The later pronunciation is preferred.
So how did I do? Deb shot a video of my third throw – watch below.
Direct link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhqA7oWERQ4
- TrekOhio: Pawpaw festival
- Facebook: Ohio Atlatl Association – sponsored the pawpaw festival event
- Ray’s Atlatls – Ray Strischek is an atlatl enthusiast from Athens, OH
- World Atlatl Association
- Missouri announces atlatl hunting
- Missouri atlatl hunter bags a deer
More on Native American History