John Bradford Branney's prehistoric adventure book series titled the Shadows on the Trail Quadrilogy. Post topics surround the plots of the books and include life in the Pleistocene, large mammal predators, hunting and gathering, acts of nature, and human drama.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Spear Throwing and Fast Ball Flinging -SHADOWS ON THE TRAIL TRILOGY
Figure One - Paleoindian using an atlatl or spear thrower.
Imagine yourself 10,700 years ago, armed with only an atlatl and a spear dart. You are hunting on an empty belly…hunting your family’s next meal, their only
Chaytonwas ready to doze off again
when he heard the sound of animal hooves running across the rocks. He focused
his eyes on where he had heard the sound. Finally, directly in front of him, he
saw two reddish brown patches darting in between the cedar trees. He reached
down and carefully picked up a spear. He watched the trees while nervously
running his thumb across the stone spear tip. He felt a stab of pain in his
thumb and looked down. He had sliced open his thumb with the sharp spear tip.
head pounded as he impatiently waited for the animals’ next move. Then, he
realized he was breathing too fast and too loud; they may hear him. He slowed
his breathing down and grasped the spear shaft in his hand. He placed the butt
end of the spear into the notch of his spear thrower. Then, breathing very slowly,
Two majestic elk,
a young bull and a cow, walked out from behind the trees, heading straight at
Chayton. The bull led the way while the cow followed behind. The elk held their
heads high and sniffed at the air, smelling for any danger that would set them
off running. The elk, upwind from Chayton, did not pick up his scent and kept
walking towards him. Chayton’s left
throwing arm was cocked and ready to throw the first spear, but the bull was
still walking straight at him. Chayton did not like his chances for a kill with
this throw. The bull had no vital organs exposed to Chayton’s line of fire and
unless Chayton threw perfectly and severed an artery, the elk would not go
down. The last thing Chayton wanted to do was track a wounded elk in this
I took the above hunting scene from my book entitled the SHADOWS
ON THE TRAIL.
Figure Three. Elements of spear throwing.
This book comes from my prehistoric trilogy series about
the Folsom People, those mystical
people who roamed North America about 10,700
years ago. The Trilogy takes place in what we now call northern Texas and
southern Colorado. Many of the animals that the Folsom People hunted for food
were fast, large, and/or dangerous, so the weapon system used by these people
meant a great deal towards surviving or not surviving. Since bow and arrow
technology would not show up in North America until around 1,500 years ago and domesticated
horses would not appear until 450 years ago, the Folsom People were somewhat limited
on their hunting technology. Personally, I would think twice about hunting some
of the large predators and prey animals that existed 10,700 years ago, but then
again, my belly is not empty.
When humans finally entered
North America beginning around thirty thousand years ago (this
time frame is still in dispute), they brought with them an old world
technology called the spear thrower or atlatl. An atlatl consists of a two foot
long or so wooden shaft with a handle or finger grips on one end and an
attached hook made from antler, rock, or bone on the opposite end (Figure Three).
Near the center of the atlatl's wooden shaft was often times a rock weight used
for balance or whipping action. Figure One demonstrates the use of an atlatl to
launch a spear while extending the length of the hunter's throwing arm (Photo
courtesy of University of New Mexico).
Figure Four. Elements of baseball pitching.
The basic physics
of how an atlatl worked for Paleoindians can be explained
using a comparison with a major league baseball pitcher (Figure Two).
For baseball pitchers, the force used to throw a
baseball X (times) the
distance the ball is released from the point of rotation is what matters
the most for speed. In baseball pitching and atlatl throwing, the point of
rotation is the shoulder. If a longer arm is moving at the same rate of
speed as a shorter arm, the ball (or spear) at the point of release is moving
faster with the longer arm. An atlatl creates a longer
arm for the Paleoindian, therefore, creating more speed from the
airborne spear. This was truly an innovative idea.
Figure Five. Practical modern application of atlatl.
Another modern-day example that uses the same physics as an atlatl is the tennis ball thrower used in dog parks around the world for throwing tennis balls further and faster for our furry friends to fetch. Figure Three shows a tennis ball thrower used by a dog owner with his attentive pooch sitting beside him, waiting for the chance to retrieve that fuzzy yellow ball. Replace the tennis ball with a spear and this dog owner resembles a Paleoindian hunter using an atlatl.
D.J. (2009) First People in the New World. University Of
California Press. Berkeley.