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News :: Atlatl: VSMS 8th grade students learn how to pronounce, use prehistoric weapon
· 12:32pm August 29th, 2013
The next time you go hunting for giant mastodon, you may want to invite Sophie Storey.
The Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School eighth-grader hit targets with three of the four large darts she threw with an ancient device known as an atlatl.
Pronounced pretty much like it sounds, an atlatl is a wooden lever about two feet in length that was used thousands of years ago to hurl large darts at prey -- and at times, enemies.
Eighth grade teacher Alex Vazquez invited Benton County Naturalist Aaron Askelson to demonstrate the atlatls and help explain their use and history. Askelson took several atlatls along with 6-foot-long darts to the school on Thursday.
"Atlatls appeared throughout the world, in several places, at about the same time," says the teacher. It's not possible to figure out how the idea of using an atlatl to add distance and force to a dart's throw, or exactly where in the world the first human threw one.
Historians have concluded, however, that the creator of the atlatl had a thorough enough understanding of certain laws of physics to determine that the elasticity of the dart when thrown by the force of the atlatl contributed to the increased velocity.
"Look at the dart," says the teacher, as he points to a photo he had just taken on his I-Pad. The dart is clearly bent from the force of the atlatl as it leaves the hand of the thrower.
Each student in Vazquez's classes had a chance to toss four of the darts with a atlatl. While most darts landed near the targets -- which were designed in the shape of prehistoric animals like mastodon or giant sloth -- only a few were able to hit the target.
"Atlatls are easy to learn to throw," said Vasquez, who told his students that archaeology indicates that even the youngsters had small atlatls which they used as toys as well as to learn the art of dart throwing.
With the advent of the atlatl, prehistoric men could hunt more game more safely, since they could hit a target from a greater distance.
Askelson was hired as the second Benton County Naturalist, along with long-time Benton County Conservation employee Karen Phelps. He has already led some atlatl events at the Nature Center. Askelson told the kids that if their parents are on Facebook, they could friend Benton County Conservation to learn more about future activities.
Below is a video featuring Atlatl Bob Perkins, an expert on the historic weapons:
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