Chestertown, MD, April 14, 2005 — Long before fast food and microwave dinners, ancient humans stalked “big game” to keep family and village supplied with their daily requirement of protein. About 40,000 years, the invention of a small but ingenious device—the Atlatl—vastly improved our ancestors' chances of survival by increasing the speed, power and accuracy of their hunting spears. Washington College's Archaeology Club, in celebration of Archaeology Month, will exhibit this early technological advance with a free public demonstration of Atlatlspear throwing, Saturday, April 23, 1-4 p.m. on the Campus Lawn. Tours of the College's Public Archaeology Laboratory will also be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Custom House on High and Water Streets in Chestertown.
The Atlatl (from the Aztec word for “spear thrower”) is a device that imparted incredible mechanical and technical advantage to prehistoric humans. Increasing spear velocity 15 times and striking power 200 times, Atlatls were used worldwide prior to the advent of the bow and arrow. The oldest known Atlatl artifact is more than 19,000 years old, although it is believed that the Atlatl was in common use more than 40,000 years ago. An example of how human technology directly affects the natural environment, the Atlatl provided a tremendous hunting advantage and, conversely, might have contributed to the extinction of many large mammals throughout the world. The power that the Atlatl imparted to the spear was so great that the Aztecs readopted the technology for its armor-piercing ability against Spanish Conquistadors in the Sixteenth Century. The Atlatl is now attracting thousands of enthusiasts around the world for sport and competition throwing.
As part of the demonstration, participants will have a hands-on chance to test their ability and accuracy of throwing using the Atlatl by spearing a seven-foot tall straw target, “Murray, the Mastodon,” constructed by the Washington College Archaeology Club. Washington College's Archaeology staff will demonstrate technique and provide throwing and safety instructions.