9th Experimental Archaeology Conference poster – Whittaker

Flights of Fancy: The Behavior of Atlatl Darts and the Relevance of Experiments

John C. Whittaker

In spite of thousands of years of successful use, ethnographic survival, a century of experimentation, and modern sporting use, the atlatl or spearthrower is widely misunderstood. Various kinds of evidence are claimed to show that atlatl darts travel over 100 mph, can penetrate plate armour, act by spring propulsion, and are spun and stabilized in flight by bevelling the edges of stone points. Careful experimentation and modern instrumentation shows that none of this is true. In experimental evaluation of prehistoric technology, various kinds of experiments, including practical experience, work best together, but some experiments fail to tell us what we need to know.

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