Frontiers Day '13 P 3 of 3

The volunteers responsible for Frontiers Day would like to offer a hardy thanks to Mr. Jack Johnson of the National Parks Service for putting on his Atl’atl and Rabbitstick event.

Jack Johnson, Integrated Resources Program Manager & Park Archeologist NPS comments:
Those were a lot of great scouts (always makes it easier!) and I had a blast.  I think this sort of program is very important, and I'm thrilled to have been invited to be an instructor. Education is the key to having kids that grow up to be adults who will be good stewards of our nation's natural and cultural treasures, and making it fun is the key to making them care about it.  I didn't manage to hit the conservation message as much as I might have this time around, but I think the history lesson went off well enough, and that's a good start.

I felt that the scouts responded well to the activity.  Many excelled at it, and several told me that it had been their favorite activity. I was gratified to see that a number of them kept coming back between other stations.   Some got very proficient and by the end of the day were throwing about as hard and accurately as I was, repeatedly punching holes through the plywood with the un-tipped darts (yeah, you REALLY don't want to get hit by one of these, imagine what one with a sharp stone point would do!).  

The atlatl is one of the oldest weapons known to mankind, tens of thousands of years old, used by different peoples all over the world. No matter who you are and where you're from, if you go back far enough your ancestors almost certainly used this to feed their families. The word “atlatl “comes from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec Empire in Central Mexico.  Aztec warriors used the weapon alongside the bow in fighting Spanish conquistadors, and it reportedly pierced Spanish armor.  The atlatl was not replaced by the bow among the Native Americans of Texas until around 700-800 AD, roughly 1300 years ago.

The atlatl is a wooden device about as long as your arm that was used to propel a "dart" built like a large arrow and typically measuring 4' - 7' long.  Atlatls typically (but not always) have finger loops just above the handle and a spur at the back end to engage a hollow nock at the back end of the dart.  Darts were made of light weight, flexible materials such as river cane.  A stone point was hafted into a removable hardwood foreshaft which was set into a socket in the front end of the dart. The front of the dart around the socket was bound so that it would not split out during impact.

Physics of atlatl and dart a) atlatl is a lever, a type of simple machine.  It provides a huge advantage over throwing a spear by hand.  Demonstrate this. b) Aerodynamics of dart - center of gravity, center of pressure, why darts and arrows have fletchings and the heavy end forward.

Disadvantages of atlatl / advantages of bow - accuracy, effective range, ammo size & quantity, movement/stealth, etc.

For this program we scrounged up roughly 4'x4'x 1/4" (?) plywood sheets, placed them on archery target easels, and hung old metal trash-can lids so that they would hang in the middle of the sheet.  These made a satisfying "KLANG!" when hit, and it is very difficult for inexperienced atlatl users to be more accurate than that anyway, especially with the not-quite-straight and imperfectly weighted spears I provided that don't fly straight anyway.  

Two lines of throwers took turns, each throwing three darts apiece, then recovering them when the range was safe.   Toward the end of the day we devised a scoring system as follows:  Hit on plywood: 2 points. Hit on metal: 4 points.   Pinflags set between the targets every 5 yards, so  at the 10 yard line, 15 yards, 20, etc. each flag that a dart was throw beyond as worth one point, thus a 12 yard throw would be worth one point and a 26 yard throw would be worth 4.   Throwers had to declare whether a particular throw was for accuracy or distance before throwing, such that a throw that completely missed its mark but went a long way would not still count for points.  This system allowed competition for both accuracy and distance to be done on the same range, and it might be worthwhile (if there was to be a comptetition) to have each scout throw two volleys of three darts, three for range and three for accuracy and the receive a combined score.   The point values established for the distances 9or targets)  may need to be tweaked from their present values, it may be a lot easier to get point by going for distance.  Not entirely sure. 

We also covered the Texas used Rabbitstick, which looks like a boomerang in a way, but it does not return when thrown.  The non-returning Rabbitstick is a short range device and a few scouts practiced with the Rabbitstick.