Posted in Native American

The Atlatl – An Ancient Hunting Weapon

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.

The paleoindians of Ohio used an atlatl resembling the one above.

We used atlatls like the ones above.

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).

An instructor shows our friend, Joel, how to grip the atlatl.
Deb throwing the dart with her atlatl. Her hat was hanging by its neck strap to get it out of her way.
One of the targets full of darts

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.

This was one of the experienced throwers taking part in the competition. You can see that his atlatl is gripped somewhat differently than the ones that we were using.
The competitors were also throwing at targets that were farther away.
This is the banner for the Ohio Atlatl Association (OAA on Facebook). The OAA sponsored both the introductory lesson at the Pawpaw festival, plus the competitions for experienced throwers.

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:

Additional information

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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and 2012 to 2021

2 thoughts on “The Atlatl – An Ancient Hunting Weapon

  1. Ray Strischek here. Nice article, great third attempted shot goes into the bullseye video. Our next atlatl event will be at THE PLAINS OHIO INDIAN MOUND FESTIVAL Oct 3,4,5. Ray Strischek, Ohio Atlatl Association:

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