More Paleolithic Technology in the Shop

DSC_0001 (9)I recently finished another Paleolithic inspired spear thrower (a.k.a. atlatl).  This came about due to some throwing over the past year that re-energized my feelings about this technology and it’s sporting aspects.  As usual for this type of project, I made several at once since the tools were at hand.  Here’s a quick rundown on the process of connecting an antler hook to a wooden handle.

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I cut the antler and rough out a notch for the hook. A few hours soaking in water will soften the cancellous core for easy working.

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Drilling can easily be done on the softened antler with a narrow knife, stone flake, or tapered drill bit.

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Once the hole is drilled (I take it down to about 3/8 inch or a little thicker) the handle can be roughly whittled, testing periodically for fit.

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Argh! A moment of distraction means the snap of a stone bit!

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A process of trial and error will eventually make a tight joint.

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Nearly there.

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Cleaning of the shoulders of the joint makes for a much neater look and solid connection.

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If the fit is tight, the drying cancellous tissue in the horn sticks surprisingly well. However, I want this to be maintenance-free for the owner so a drop of wood glue will insure decades of strength.  Now the slow and tedious shaping can commence.

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Antler hook after shaping.

Hickory handle after being painted with red ochre.

Here is the hickory handle after being painted with red ochre.

And, for mine, I added a turk's head knot in vegetable-tanned leather to keep hand placement consistent.

And, for mine, I added a turk’s head knot in vegetable-tanned leather to keep hand placement consistent.

My favorite style is the Western European Upper Paleolithic “hammer-handle” style thrower.  It works well with heavier darts and is a solid companion.

Atlatls Gone Wild

For the past twenty or more years the technology of the spear-thrower has become more and more well-known as a sport.  Popularly called an atlatl in the Americas as that was the name the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs gave it.  This is a world-wide technology and arguably one of the greatest technological leaps for early modern humans.  I feel fortunate to have lived through this increasing popularity and to see the growth of the sport.

Have a look at some remarkable throwers recreating an ancient training game reported to be from South America.

For a more European take on the subject, check out speerschleuders at this fine German website.  Finally, possibly the oldest image of a spear thrower in action from Lascaux Cave.

The bird on a stick in the lower left is believed to be an animal effigy spear thrower widely known in the region from the later Pleistocene.

The bird on a stick in the lower left is believed to be an animal effigy spear thrower widely known in the region from the later Pleistocene.