Quirks & Quarks

First Peoples Used Spear Throwers

Evidence that ancient Paleo-Indians used an advanced weapons technology.
Modern practitioner preparing to use an Atlatl (Richard Keatinge, cc-by-sa-3.0)

Taking down a mastodon must have been a mammoth job for the first people to arrive in North America, and we know they hunted large prey. Just how they did it has been something of a puzzle, though. Getting up close and attacking such large and dangerous beasts seems far too risky. But evidence that Paleo-Indians, the first generation of people in North America, used more distant weapons to hunt has never been found - until now. Dr. Karl Hutchings, a professor of archaeology at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, has shown that stone spear points from 13,000 years ago, from different locations around North America, show characteristic fracture patterns of high speed impacts. It's impossible to throw hard enough to generate these impacts, which suggests that these early hunters were using spear-throwers, or atlatls, to fire their projectiles.

Related Links

- Paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science
LiveScience story

Atlatl launch picture copyright Richard Keatinge cc-by-sa-3.0