Have you ever heard of an Atlatl?
When backwoodsmen hear the term “primitive spear”, this is what pops up in their head. It’s an ancient weapon that goes back thousands of years.
In this post, we explore all the details about this great ancient weapon revealing all the forgotten facts that are worth knowing. You’re going to learn how to make an atlatl spear. You’re also going to learn about Atlatl’s design and how to throw one as well.
If you’re a hunter like most of us are, you’ll be interested in this post.
The Atlatl Spear, or just the Atlatl, is the name of several pre-modern tools associated with spear throwing. It’s basically a piece of bone, ivory, or wood that is slightly curved. It is usually about five to twenty-four inches long and about one to three inches wide. It has a hooked or indented end.
The Atlatl is used for spear-throwing, usually three to eight feet in length. By resting the spear in the Atlatl, pulling the throwing arm back, and then releasing the spear, the Atlatl acts as a lever and an extension of the throwing arm.
A spear launched with an Atlatl can reach speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour — and distances of 20 to 300 yards. The Atlatl greatly improved spear-throwing speeds and distances.
Wondering how much further you can throw a spear with an Atlatl?
In fact, archaeologists at Canada’s Thompson Rivers University found that the Clovis peoples (Native American Paleo-Indians) used the Atlatl 13,000 years ago specifically through stone spear point fractures — fractures unique to high-velocity Atlatl use!
There are many questions about the Atlatl with it being an ancient weapon, let’s start with the history of it.
The name Atlatl comes from the Aztec language, Nahuatl. In Nahuatl, Atlatl means “spear thrower”. The use of the tool, however, dates far before the Aztec Empire (1345 – 1521 AD). It was used at least 17,000 years ago during Europe’s Upper Paleolithic era.
Other examples of the Atlatl have been found in Australia, Asia, and North and South America. The Atlatl was likely brought to the Americas via the Bering land bridge over 12,000 years ago by hunters pursuing woolly mammoths.
The Aztecs used the Atlatl in the area of what is now Mexico. In 1521, the Spanish conquest of the Aztec peoples by Hernan Cortes had finished, but not without extensive use of the Atlatl by the Aztecs — as a combat tool — against the Spanish forces.
In modern times, the Atlatl has regained popularity. This time, however, it is in archaeological and amateur competitive circles. New records for speed and distance are being made and broken. The Atlatl, in this sense, has never gone out of style!
To make an Atlatl thrower (and the corresponding spear) you will need at least two tree branches of moderate length, feathers, scissors, string, glue, and some sort of carving tool. Follow these steps to make a wooden Atlatl Spear.
Step 1: Branch Selection
The branch you choose for the Atlatl thrower should be five inches to two feet in length. The spear should be longer, about three to five feet. The branches should be of sturdy wood, not too young or pliable, but also not too old or decayed.
The Atlatl thrower should be made of a slightly curved branch. The spear, of course, should be straighter and narrower than the thrower. It should be able to fit inside a notch in the Atlatl. Hardwood is better for a sturdier throw, but slightly softer wood may be better for a “sling” effect.
Step 2: Trim the Branches
Peel off any leaves or stems from the main branch of your Atlatl thrower. You will need a carving tool to do so. At this point, if your Atlatl thrower does not have a curve, you can carve a slight curve into it.
Also, trim the branches off what is to become the actual spear. By carving correctly, you can make the spear have a sharper or duller tip. The other end of the spear should be slightly tapered to allow it to be placed in the thrower. Adjust your carving as necessary.
Step 3: Carve the Notch
The notch of the Atlatl thrower should go on the end of the convex side of the curved (and carved) branch. In other words, if you hold up the branch lengthwise and it looks like a shallow hill, carve the notch at the base of the hill — at the end of the stick.
The notch should be L-shaped and designed to incorporate the spear. Make sure the base of the spear can fit! This is crucial. The notch should have a solid “L” back with a slight U-shaped indentation for the spear.
Step 4: Finish the Atlatl Spear
Cut up a few feathers (meaning, cut off the quills) to put at the base of the spear. Glue or tie the feathers on as if you were making arrows for archery. Two or three feathers on the spear will do. This will stabilize the spear in flight.
Step 5: Use (With Care)
This is a dangerous weapon. Because of this, you will want to find an empty field or otherwise empty area to use it. Make sure you are not near any animals, children, or other people in general. Any children using it should have adult supervision.
Hold the Atlatl in your throwing hand with the notch turned upward at the other end. Pull back with that arm as if you are throwing a ball. Then, using your other arm, fit the feathered end of the spear into the notch.
Pinch down the end of the spear with your throwing hand’s fingers to the Atlatl if you have to. Then let your other hand go, and launch the spear using the Atlatl from your throwing hand. As always, use common sense, exercise caution, and look before you throw.
How To Throw
The Atlatl gives you the ability to throw as if you had another joint in your arm. The leverage it gives you for throwing is unparalleled.
You grip it the same you would be holding a baton. Then grip the Atlatl with the spear holding the spear at eye level.
After aiming at your target, lead with your opposite leg putting all your weight in a dropping movement forward.
The most important part of throwing it is the follow-through.
The best part about these devices is the simplicity and ease of use. Simplicity works.
The Atlatl Spear is a historically significant weapon that was arguably essential to human evolution. It was a faster, easier tool to use for hunting. This use has subsided in recent years, but the Atlatl can still easily be made for distance competitions and archaeological field testing.
So, if you’ve ever wondered how your ancestors made the most out of using the least, try making an Atlatl.
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