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


Chayton was 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.           

Chayton’s weary 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, he waited.           

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 rugged country.


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.


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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.

Meltzer, D.J. (2009)  First People in the New World. University Of California Press. Berkeley.