Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What the Hell is an Atlatl?

In the beginning, humans were subsistence hunters. At some point, an enterprising caveman figured out that a pointy stick was good for killing animals. That caveman also soon learned that some animals are big enough, tough enough, or mean enough that even with a pointy stick in them, you're still at risk of severe injury.

The biggest and strongest cavemen could throw the pointy stick, hitting their prey from a safer distance. But what about the smaller cavemen who couldn't throw hard enough to kill a mammoth? While history shows us a plethora of innovations used to enhance the lethality of humanity, today I'd like to focus on something called an atlatl.

Photo by Richard Keatinge

The atlatl, sometimes called the dart thrower or spear thrower, is a lever-type device used to launch a pointy stick faster than the user could possibly throw it with just their arm. It works on the same principle as the catapult, sling, and various other devices that extend the length of a throwing arm to achieve greater speeds.

"But in a world where bows exist," I hear you ask, "why would someone ever choose to use the atlatl?" While bows are much more powerful, more intuitive, and far simpler to master, building a bow with any kind of power is very difficult to do from scratch, especially with primitive tools. It is also a very time-consuming process and requires particular materials. However, an atlatl only requires a stick about the length of your forearm, a knife, and maybe some kind of cordage. In addition, it can also throw larger and less refined projectiles than a bow. They're also a whole lot of fun to play with.

I'm hoping to spend some time on an actual atlatl range this weekend, so I can show how they actually function and how they can enhance your ability to throw arrows.


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