Tool of the Month- The Atlatl

We’ve made and gained a huge variety of tools over the last couple of months, however this latest one has provided us with the most enjoyment, competition and the biggest potential for us being made into human pin cushions.  The atlatl or spear thrower is a simple tool which provides more strength and speed to a projectile by effectively extending the thrower’s arm. It is usually made of a single piece of wood with a pointed notch carved in one of the ends. At the other, two leather loops are attached for your fingers to sit inside.


The spear or dart is similar in design to a large arrow, with a fletched end and a pointy end. On the back end, there is a depression to accommodate the atlatl’s corresponding notch.

The spear is placed upon the atlatl and held between the fingers, butting up against the joint at the ends. It is then thrown, similar to launching a ball or javelin.
Atlatl’s are an extremely ancient and effective hunting weapon, utilised by people for at least the last 20,000 years. They were employed by people living during the Upper Palaeolithic to hunt the mega fauna that roamed then, such as Mammoths, Woolly Rhino and Giant Elk. The earliest archaeological examples come from Magdalenian era cave sites in France and Spain (c.15,000 years ago), they are usually made of Reindeer antler or ivory.

Ivory atlatl carved into the shape of an ibex from the French Upper Palaeolithic site at Grotte du Mas d'Azil

Antler atlatl carved into the shape of an ibex from the French Upper Palaeolithic site at Grotte du Mas d’Azil

Spear-throwers were recorded to be in use in the Americas pre-Columbus, and until much more recently in New Guinea, South America, Australia and the Arctic.
For most of last week we practised the use of our atlatl out in the Avalon Marshes with archaeologists and volunteers taking part in our Mesolithic Sand Island Project.

We then took the weaponry to our Stone Age Day in Glastonbury on Wednesday the 24th of July where we had over 150 people experience and use these incredible prehistoric hunting tools.

Our example was made for us by Karl Lee.

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