REVIEW: “Prehistoric Indians of the Southeast: Archaeology of Alabama and the Middle South”, by John A. Walthall

A good book with lots of detail and great presentation. Books like these are not meant to be page turners, but this one is more readable than most.

Ray Strischek here:  In an early article I opined that the difference between Paleo and Archaic Americans is visible in flint point designs. Archaic points have defined stems while the hafting area of Paleo points are a continuation of the overall form. Minor modifications — dulled edges where hafting would take place protect sinew from abrasion and hold point to spear or foreshaft.  I found my opinion confirmed in the above mentioned book.

“Recent investigations of stratified rock shelters and open-air sites in eastern North America have indicated that the Archaic stage began  nearly 10,000 years ago and ended 7,000 years later. This long cultural sequence has been traditionally divided into three sequential periods. The first of these temporal segments, the early Archaic period is characterized by notched and stemmed projectile points.”

Of course, this book is not limited to any particular cultural epoch but rather spans Paleo to European contact the southeastern area of the United States.  Alabama is the center of focus, which includes mound builders and urn burial cultures.  The urn burial culture caught my attention.  Children were put in urns whole, while adult bodies were stripped of flesh. Only the bones were placed in the urns.  These urns were not specifically made for this purpose but rather were ordinary cooking pots pulled out of domestic use for the burial purpose.  A bowl shaped lid was fashioned after the fact to seal the urn.  The urn was then buried just deep enough to be covered over with the dirt taken from the hole.  This custom started in the Woodland stage (Paleo, Archaic, Woodland, Proto-historic, European Contact) and died out about the time of European Contact.

This book also provides recipes for processing acorn and hickory/walnuts.  Acorns: Shell the nuts, put the meat in a pot, leach out the tannic acid by boiling, changing the water each time the water becomes light brown.  The process takes about an hour.  (The book does not say how many times to change the boiling water.)

Hickory and Walnuts:   Smash both shell and meat together and boil in water.  The shells will sink to the bottom, allegedly.  The meat will float in the middle, supposedly.  The oil is supposed to rise to the top and can then be drawn off for cooking oil or body lotion by using a feather.  After the oil has been removed and the meat is soft, the meat can be dried in cakes, to be ground into bread meal or a breakfast mush later.

As in other books about sequences of Paleo, Archaic, Woodland, and Proto-history, in other parts of the country, the characteristics of each era is very nearly the same.  The Paleo’s footprint is light: some kill sites have been found but homesteads are so rare that some have sarcastically said Paleos lived nowhere and ate nothing.  They did however drop 13,000 Clovis points in 1,500 places all over the continental United States; a few in association with extinct Mammoths.  They went where they wanted to go, no borders.

The Archaic people settled down, moved into caves and rock shelters and otherwise put down roots in a migratory manner, here in the summer, there in the winter, and started gathering as much as they hunted.  They also started making celts and axes and other woodworking tools, and encouraged wild plants to produce more.

The Woodland people are the mound builders, pottery makers, and the users of bows and arrows, and the corn, beans, and squash agriculturalists. They are the ones who established regional religious ceremonial centers with relatively dense populations and long range trade networks.

And as elsewhere in the continental United States, for the same vague reasons, the peak of this Woodland social growth began to crash on its own just prior to European Contact, with the process of deterioration much speeded up after contact with European diseases, greed, and the mass immigration of Europeans looking for land and resources.

Who knows what would have replaced the Woodland phase if the indigenous people of the North American continent had they been left to their own devices.   It was obvious that the larger civilizations of Aztecs, Mayas, perhaps even the Incas were providing influences to the North American continent.  It is possible that something bigger and more developed than Hopewell, Cahokia, the Pueblos of the Southwest, and Mound City in Alabama probably would have happened.

But there it is.  It’s a good book with lots of detail and great presentation. Books like these are not meant to be page turners, but this one is more readable than most.

Ray Strischek

Editor, THE DART.

Ice Age Art Found in Florida

Is this evidence of the first “mammoth” (proboscidean) art found in the Americas?

Bone incision of proboscidean found in Florida

Could be a fake, maybe not.  Bone incised with image of mammoth found in Vero, Florida.  I read a book recently about Ice Age Vero, Florida, in which human remains/artifacts were found in association with pre0-Clovis critters.  There, like at Meadowcroft, the pre-Clovis age is heavily disputed by the non-believers.


Frontiers of Anthropology
The research is published online June 12 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Doug Bassett’s 98XXXX ISAC

Recently, Doug Bassett of New York State, scored a 98XXXX in an ISAC contest (International Standard Accuracy Competition) which is a World Atlatl Association contest in which each atlatlist throws a dart 5 times from 15 meters and 5 times from 20 meters at a target about 4 feet in diameter, numbered 6 to 10X from the outside in. This is done in round robin fashion in which he/she who throws first next throws last, rotating back to first after each thrower has a chance of throwing first. Basically, every throw is a cold throw, just as it would be in a hunting situation. The maximum possible score is 100 with 10 x’s. Since this contest started in 1996, no one has ever scored higher than 98. No one has ever thrown a perfect 100, x’s or no x’s.

The X ring is inside the 10 ring and is about 3 inches in diameter. At 15 or 20 meters it presents an extremely small target. The X ring is suppose to provide for tie breaking, but mostly, it serves as bragging rights, and anyone who gets more than 3 X’s in a contest, regardless of total score, has a lot to brag about.

In the download below, Doug tells his own story about what it was like, dart by dart, stepping up to the throwing line, trying to rid the mind of all the distractions and cobwebs, and gather the concentration needed to put all the many technical steps of the throwing motion together to get that dart to the center of the target. This good atlatl and dart education. Enjoy.

Download Doug’s Story Here

Holding and Throwing Atlatl Darts

I was thinking about throwing and holding style recently and happened upon a couple of good articles I wanted to share…

The image above is a pretty good representation of the problems of teaching people how to throw with an atlatl without a dart rest. As you can see in the picture, as the throwing motion begins, the dart flexes upward. The most common mistake people using an atlatl without a dart rest make is to hang a finger over the top of the dart (like a saddle on a horse) and not let go soon enough. Even a person who rightly just holds the dart with the tips of a finger and a thumb can hang on too long. The person above waited to long to release the dart. She should have let the dart loose before her elbow passed her face or more to the point, just as soon as she started the forward throwing motion. To the good, she is not dropping her elbow.


The “Right” Way to Hold a Dart with a Non-Dart Rest Atlatl

Hold Dart Atlatl Rest

Note the dart itself is resting on the three fingers and held in place using the tips of the one finger and thumb. The trick is to hold just tight enough to be able to keep the dart on the spur until the forward motion begins … then let go, let the dart slip out from between the tips of the finger and thumb as soon as the forward throwing motion begins.


NYT: Hunting with Atlatls

Cory here.  Go read this story in the U.S. section of The New York Times today about hunting with the atlatl.

Brief interviews therein with Arron Hendershott (Missouri Deparment of Conservation), Ron Mertz (Missouri Atlatl Association), John Whittaker (anthropologist at Grinnell College), Gene Morris (museum curator in Alabama), and Ray Madden (somehow killed a squirrel with an atlatl) target the issues of hunting with the atlatl and the possible heritage of spear dart throwing.  We’ve pondered atlatl hunting on this blog before.  Funny headline too.  I’m not sure what “heritage” there is to atlatlism either.  But, sadly, Malcolm Gay didn’t provide much description of atlatling as a sport of accuracy or sculpting craft. Those are the biggies for us, at least.

Oh well, maybe next time!  Dear pioneers of journalism — we’re happy to provide high-resolution images and rambling interviews.  Just let us know.

Ray Strischek and Flint Ridge Atlatling in The Columbus Dispatch

What did you do this Labor Day weekend?  If you were my dad, Ray Strischek, “former world champion” atlatlist, you made your annual pilgrimage to the Flint Ridge Knap-In and had a ton of fun atlatling, teaching kids to throw with the atlatl, and probably geting really sun-burnt.  (Redheads.  We never learn.)

Many thanks to my buddy, Chris, for sending along a link to some nice atlatl reporting The Columbus Dispatch posted yesterday about the Knap-In and my dad’s 15-year love of the game.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

The demonstrations certainly were a hit with the McMurphy boys; Austin, 13; Trenten, 11; and 9-year-old Ethan were quickly practicing their throwing technique at the large square targets.

Trenten said he could understand why prehistoric people used the weapons for hunting, as even his light throws were burying the spears deep into the thick, fiberboard targets. He soon had developed his own throwing style, and practicing even through a brief downpour.

“You have to keep your arm pointed at the target and move your arm forward like you’re swatting a fly,” he said, demonstrating his style. “It’s pretty easy, and very fun.”

I like that fly-swatting analogy!  I often find it difficult to describe the technique.

If you live in the area and missed the event this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for 2011.

Kids and Atlatls

Check out this TV news story about some kids in Wisconsin learning about the atlatl.

My dad has received more than a few emails from people running school programs in Alaska and Canada asking about how to teach children about the atlatl (or where they can get their hands on one).  I think a number of them are actually teaching kids with Native American ancestry but, in our humble opinion, the atlatl is a great learning tool for any class, and for a number of reasons:

  • The atlatl is an important tool in world history
  • The atlatl demonstrates the physics of the fulcrum and lever
  • The atlatl is as simple a machine as you can get — OK, maybe the wheel and digging stick take the cake … but everyone’s already heard of those!
  • The atlatl is way easier to build than the bow and arrow 🙂

If you teach a park or school program like Native History, physics or even shop class, buy one of our simple, inexpensive atlatl models and build your own from the prototype.

Thanks to Thunderbird Atlatl for the link.  (Their atlatls and darts are featured in the clip.)

More on Atlatl Targets

Previously, Cory showed off an atlatl target he set up in a driveway in Washington, DC.

Since then, readers have been asking where we get our target backings, etc … and I thought it would be good to do a little atlatl target brain dump:

Ray’s Atlatl Targets

I make my atlatl targets out of ISO board (“closed-cell synthetic rubber foam”) — preferably the black, squishy (but rigid) kind.  It’s about 3 3/4 inches thick.  I get mine at a place called Knapps Pools and Spas in Michigan but you can probably find it at a roofing store or straight from the manufacturer.  If you, humble reader, know where I can this substance delivered straight from the manufacturer (for cheap), please let me know!

I hold this foam up with a simple plywood structure but a few stakes would probably suffice.

For practice at home, we don’t put a face on these targets.  But taping a simple target up is a good idea as it’s much easier to focus on and hit a target than a blank spot.

“Official” Atlatl Targets

FITA Archery Target from Wikimedia Commons

For the Ohio Atlatl Accuracy Contest and the International Atlatl Society Accuracy Contest we use a standard 120 cm FITA archery target (with 2 white, 2 black, 2 blue,  2 red, and 2 yellow cirlces).  120 cm needs a cardboard backing of 50 inches by 50 inches. Use 3M spray adhesive to glue the target face to the cardboard. Get the cardboard from furniture stores that import from overseas.

You can get these 120 cm target faces for $6 to $10 each through Lancaster Archery ( or any other large archery store with a web page.  They print them on regular paper, paper with nylon webbing reinforcement, and also on thick poster board stock which accounts for the price difference. I find the cheaper paper target faces last as well as the nylon web and poster board so why pay more?

International Standard Accuracy Competition target faces (white and black circles only) can be purchased through the World Atlatl Association web page. Last time I checked, WAA referred everyone to Jack Rowe for target sales.

The Alternatives to the Foam Rubber Atlatl Target Backings

A lot of people don’t have the time to drive to the middle of Hell, Michigan, to buy black foam from gypsies…

1. Bales of hay (straw, actually)

Consider the target, whether its the 5 color 120 cm standard FITA archery target (50 inches by 50 inches) used for Ohio Standard Accuracy Competitions or the WAA’s black and white ISAC target (48 inches by 48 inches), you will need 6 to 8 bales of hay (straw actually) depending on the size of the bales available at your local feed and grain or landscaping store.
Remember, the bullseye of the target must be waist high off the ground, so the stack of hey bales must be such as to allow for that.

Hey, bales are for horses … not to mention bulky and difficult to transport without a pick-up truck. You will need rope to tie them all together and stakes to anchor them to the ground so they don’t fall over.  The upside of using bales of hay is that if your atlatl site is permanent, you can cover the hey with a tarp when not in use as a target backing and the bales will last a whole season.

2. Cardboard boxes

Go to the import furniture store.  The furniture they get comes with assembly required so often you can find boxes that are 50 inches wide by 6 to 8 feet long by 6 to 8 inches thick.  Stuff the card board box with more cardboard. Use 6 foot long stakes to anchor the thing to the ground.  Such a target backing will last a day or so and then the center will be shot out but that can be fixed by replacing the shot up cardboard inside with more cardboard.

3. Old carpets

I have been to atlatl events (Indiana comes to mind) where the target face is glued to a single sheet of cardboard which is then tacked to two vertical stakes. Behind this, about 6 inches away from the cardboard, a tarp or old carpet is loosely hung. The dart passes through the cardboard but does not go through the tarp or old carpet because the hanging tarp or old carpet provides no resistance.  The tarp or old carpet lasts a lot longer than the target face on the single sheet of cardboard.

MORE Atlatl target ideas…

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations.  Here are some more links … Read all that and you’ll be the world expert on Atlatl targets.  You know, back in the day they just aimed at the mammoth.  Oh, how things have changed.

Atlatl Hunting

Hi, Cory here (Atlatl Ray’s son) …

So, the other day I saw this video in a forum thread titled “Seven-Year-Old Takes Deer with Atlatl!”

As my Dad (Ray — the owner of this site) used to be a hunter when I was kid but stopped long before he started atlatling, I thought I’d ask him about the video and what he, as an atlatlist, feels primitive weapons hunting policies should consider.

– – – – –

CORY: Have you seen this video?  What do you think of it?

RAY:  I have seen this video. As far as I know, it’s real. But I can’t imagine that the seven-year-old threw a dart hard enough to clean-kill the deer. Maybe Dad delivered the coup de grace. I didn’t see.

What do you think about it?

CORY: I think it raises some issues — like “should children be allowed to hunt?” and “should people be allowed to hunt with atlatls?” and “is one method of hunting more humane than another?”  You’re an experienced hunter and atlatlist but you’ve never hunted with an atlatl, right?  Do you think hunting with an atlatl is humane or no?

RAY: When talking about hunting with the atlatl, I have always suggested that perhaps states should use the ISAC as a test for who can get a license to hunt deer with an atlatl. Anyone scoring above 70, fine. Below, no.

CORY: Do states test gun hunters?

RAY: It’s been a while since I hunted but I believe licensing requires the hunter to pass “safety classes” in a number of states, if not all states.  Do those classes feature discourses on humanity?  I’m going to guess ‘probably not’ but I don’t know.

CORY: So, do you think hunting with the atlatl should be legal, in Ohio for example?

RAY:  Yes, I think hunting with the atlatl should be legal in Ohio. I think the state should use either the World Atlatl Association’s ISAC (70 or better) or the Ohio Atlatl Association’s Ohio Standard Accuracy (100 or better) as the testing means. Both are posted on the Internet.

CORY: Why do you suggest an accuracy test?

RAY: 1) Because an inaccurate atlatlist is more likely to make a sloppy kill.  2) Because such cooperation between atlatl organizations and the state departments in charge of hunting would be good for the organizations’ growth. More people (hunters) would attend ataltl events just to get their scores recorded.  And 3) … Because accuracy is good for the sport and good for the sportsman.

CORY: Do you think hunters would go for an accuracy test?

RAY: I can understand why hunters would prefer not to have to prove they can hit the broad side of a barn with an atlatl dart.  Does that answer your question?

CORY: You’re concerned about the hunter’s ability to clean-kill.  Is accuracy enough?  Does the atlatl dart hit hard enough?

RAY: Well, if it’s all about “penetration” and clean kills and whether or not the atlatl has enough power or causes undue suffering for the deer, I have personally seen gun hunters blast away with multiple shots from high-powered rifles, shotguns, and pistols at everything from fully grown deer to Bambi babies, only wounding the poor things.  And I think Bob Berg has proven the penetration power of the atlatl with his numerous boar hunts in which his darts pass through and stick out a foot on the opposite side of the boar.

However, if you’re getting back to the question of “should a seven-year-old hunt deer with an atlatl?” … I don’t know.  I’m not even sure where it’s legal for a child that young to hunt, period.

CORY: What about frogs and fish?

RAY: People already hunt frogs with frog gigs. It is not much of a stretch to launch the pole with the atlatl.  And it’s also legal to hunt fish with bow and tethered arrow.  According to my reading of Ohio Fish Laws, “trash fish” (carp) can be hunted with just about anything.  The atlatl was used for fish hunting along the coasts of North and South America for 1000s of years. It is already a proven equipment for that purpose.  However, I would not limit atlatl hunting to fish or frogs.

CORY: Do you think gun and bow hunters should look into the atlatl?

RAY: Yes, give the atlatl a try in a target range, competition setting.  If you like it, lobby for its inclusion in the primitive weapons season. The myth that atlatls would steal deer from archers is insane. Cars kill more deer every year than the number of people attending atlatl events. I estimate that less than 20 percent of atlatlists would hunt anything anyway because most atlatlists are attracted to the atlatl because of its cultural history, not its thrill of the kill.

– – – – –

Anyhow, I’m Cory.  I help my dad run this site and I like atlatls for sport but I’m not into hunting.  I’m not anti-hunting or anti-gun or anti-weapon but I don’t hunt and I don’t recommend people seek out atlatling as a new venue for killing animals.  However, I would like gun and bow hunters to learn more about the atlatl.  The more popular it gets, the more people are going to try it out — as seen in the video.  I would prefer that their be a legitimate set of rules and testing established state by state to make sure people know how to do it efficiently.

What do you think?

By the way, Thud’s Cave has an amazing list of state laws regarding hunting with an atlatl.