Atlatl hurlers harken to prehistoric times in Washington competition
Prehistoric hunters they were not.
But the dozen or so men, women and children hurling spears through the air Saturday at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village used a weapon that their long-ago ancestors might have, an atlatl — though some of the spears, fashioned from a fishing rod, an arrow shaft and a golf tee, would not have been so familiar.
What's an atlatl?
It's a spear-thrower that gives the spear velocity and distance, which allowed prehistoric hunters to nab dinner from a safe distance.
Meadowcroft, the oldest site of human habitation in North America, hosted its 15th annual Atlatl Competition in Avella, Washington County, on Saturday. Winners received the Miller Point Award, named for farmer Albert Miller and the prehistoric flint spear point he discovered at the site of Meadowcroft in 1955, leading to the excavation of the rockshelter.
“Everyone has an ancestor who has used one of these,” said Gary Nolf, 59, of Westbrook, Conn., president of the World Atlatl Association, which sanctioned the event. “We wouldn't be here without them. They used these to hunt and to obtain sustenance.”
Meadowcroft Director Dave Scofield said the word, atlatl, is Aztec, and that Spaniards “found out the hard way” that spears tossed by atlatls could perforate armor. Researchers believe that man had used atlatls nearly 30,000 years ago. Some archeological finds suggest atlatls were used in North America, he said, but nothing has been unearthed in the Western Pennsylvania area.
Atlatls are little more than a foot long, usually crafted of wood, A spear is perched atop the atlatl; the thrower flicks it, and the spear sails.
The only two “rules,” according to the throwers: Keep your throwing elbow up, and follow up with a flick of the wrist. Otherwise, there are no style points, so anything goes.
One competitor regularly throws sidearmed, like a baseball pitcher. Others lobbed theirs in an arc, the shaft of the spear wobbling wildly as it soared toward targets with either a deer on it, or at a sheet with several targets.
The competition was open to the public and novices encouraged to participate.
Marlin Bassett, 10, of Warsaw, N.Y., was first throwing spears with an atlatl when he was 3, “but I actually started hitting a target when I was 4 years old.”
His aim has improved since then, as he's won several competitions over the past few years. He competed with his dad, Doug.
“This isn't like cavemen with clubs,” Marlin said, adding he sometimes gets teased about participating in the sport by his schoolmates. “This is more of the time of the Ice Age.”
Many participants, Scofield said, make their own atlatls and spears. Nolf had a whole bag of them, some hand-carved and ornate, modeled after those used in New Guinea, Australia, and by Aztecs. Another was as simple as a tree branch.
Participants said someone doesn't have to be an athlete to be successful in the sport, comparing it to throwing darts.
Lori Majorsky, 55, of Derry, Westmoreland County, a three-time World Atlatl Association women's champion, said, “You just always want to hit that bullseye. You're always looking for a better score.”
Her husband, Andy, launched one spear that after sailing about 35 meters, landed with a loud thump in the hide of a stuffed bear.
“They were using these (atlatls) well before the bow and arrow were invented,” Andy Majorsky, 60, said.
For more information about the World Atlatl Association, go to waa.basketmakeratlatl.com.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers opt for youth, speed while revamping roster
- Steelers finalize 53-man roster
- VND roundup: Kiski Area wins boys soccer opener
- Carnegie Mellon grad’s tweak to tweets turns 7
- Timing of summer’s end a matter of perspective for Western Pennsylvanians
- Starkey: Pitt does its duty
- White House threat sparks call for wider immigration debate
- Pilot in Atlantic Ocean crash lost consciousness, Coast Guard says
- Chemical mix sickens two from South Greensburg
- High school roundup: Seton-La Salle captures Century Conference win
- Pirates’ Polanco runs into rookie wall