Student handout

drawing by Jon Gibson

Atlatl Antics

About 3,500 years ago, the Poverty Point people used a spear thrower called an atlatl. The atlatl started being used thousands of years before Poverty Point was even built. It was still used around A.D. 400 when Louisiana Indians began adopting the bow and arrow.

An atlatl helped the hunter throw his spear because it gave him a "longer" throwing arm and greater throwing power. Atlatls have been described as shaped like "oversized crochet needles" because they were about two feet long with a hook at the spear end. The back end of the spear fit into the atlatl. Sometimes an atlatl hook was made of deer antler and attached to the wooden atlatl to hold the spear in place. Stone weights were attached to the middle of the atlatl to add more force to the throwing arm. These are often called bannerstones or atlatl weights.

The hunter would hold the spear in place with his thumb and pointer finger, while the other fingers maintained a steady hold on the atlatl. The spear was thrown by using an overhand motion similar to casting a rod and reel. At just the right time, the hunter would let go of the spear and send it toward its target. One of the trickiest things about using an atlatl is holding onto the atlatl when you let go of the spear.

Complete the following Atlatl Antics activities by using a modern day hunting tool known as a clay target thrower. Modern hunters use this tool to throw clay targets into the air to practice target shooting. See if you can hit the mark and determine why both ancient and modern man invented this kind of tool.

Step 1:
Each member of your team will begin the Atlatl Antics by throwing the clay disc as far as possible using only arm power. Use a tape measure to measure and record the distance each team member throws the target. Each team member will have two tries. NOTE: The clay targets are VERY FRAGILE and will break on impact. Plan to spend some time picking up the pieces!

Throwing Distances Using Arm Power

Team Member Throw #1 Throw #2 Average
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Step 2:
Next each team member will use the thrower to heave the clay target as far as possible. Measure and record these distances as well. Be sure to read the directions telling how to use the clay target thrower. There are different directions given for left and right handed people. You use the clay target thrower like a tennis racket, throwing from the side. This is different from the atlatl because the Indians used it to throw spears from an overhead position. This shouldn't make a difference in your results. The principle of adding arm length to increase the distance and speed of the thrown object is the same with the atlatl and the clay target thrower.

Throwing Distances Using a Clay Target Thrower Atlatl

Team member Throw #1 Throw #2 Average
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ _

Conclusions:

Add each student's two throws together to get a sum and then divide by two. This will give you an average of each person's efforts for the free arm and atlatl throws. Does the distance change when the clay target thrower is used? Describe your results.

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Why did ancient Indians use the atlatl spear thrower? What conclusions can you make based on your experiments with the clay target thrower?

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Create a Horizontal Bar Graph to Show Your Results!

Each student will have two horizontal bars on the graph. The first bar will show how far the student threw the clay target using arm power. The second bar will show the distance thrown using the clay target thrower or atlatl. Color the bars showing arm power with one color and the clay target thrower bars a different color. Label the students' names along the left vertical side of the graph and label the distances thrown along the bottom horizontal axis of the graph.