The Atlatl: A Hunting We Will Go!


In todays world the idea of hunting game conjures up the mental image of walking through the woods in a florescent orange vest, hunting rifle or compound bow in hand and hours of sitting in a tree stand waiting for game to pass by. For the native tribes that traversed the Ohio River Valley before about AD 300, the preferred weapon for hunting large game was the atlatl and dart, seen pictured below. (Check out the post on Social Complexity and the Bow in Ancient Ohio to read about the changes in hunting in North America).

"Development of the Atlatl" Ohio Historical Society; Virtual First Ohioans

Over this past weekend Linda Pansing and I experienced firsthand at the Octagon Earthworks Open House in Newark Ohio, the amazing improvement of throwing a dart with the assistance of an atlatl. A hand thrown dart can typically travel 10 to 15 feet, but with the assistance of the atlatl our distances improved to more than two to three times that distance. After a few instructions from experienced throwers we were off and well missing the target; but we had a better understanding of the mechanical fundamentals of the atlatl. Once the dart is seated within the cradle of the atlatl, the thrower holds their arm at a 90 degree angle, keeping the upper arm parallel to the ground. All of the movement stays with the lower part of the arm with the assistance of the wrist. When the dart has been deployed, the throwers thumb is pointed in the direction of the darts trajectory. After only a few throws, you can get a feeling for the relationship between distance to the target and the needed throwing force. Thus allowing for  fairly easily adjust for accuracy. We were throwing at a PVC square however, which would be nothing like throwing at a moving target and this is where the true art of atlatl and dart hunting occurs.

In the end, we walked away with a better appreciation of early American Indian hunting techniques and how early hunting was not only for the survival of the tribe but also an art.

Kellie Locke-Rogers

I am a new member to the Ohio Historical Society Archaeology family. Before coming to OHS, I was a Field Archaeologist from the Uwharrie National Forest in North Carolina.


Posted April 16, 2014
Topics: Archaeology

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