Atlatl Workshop – Before the Bow & Arrow – May 5

When people think of Native American weapons, bows and arrows are usually the first thing that springs to mind and with good reason. Just about every tribe had some form of a bow and arrow that was used for hunting or warfare, and sometimes for both. Before the bow and arrow, Native Americans used something called an Atlatl for hunting and fishing. To learn more about this ancient technology and to make and throw your own atlatl, The Institute for American Indian Studies is hosting a very special workshop, Before the Bow and Arrow: Atlatl, on May 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. with Gary Nolf, past president of the World Atlatl Association.

About the Atlatl

An atlatl is one of humankind’s first mechanical inventions that preceded the bow and arrow in most parts of the world. Basically, an atlatl is an ancient type of a spear thrower that was used to throw a spear farther and faster towards the quarry. The word atlatl comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs who were using them when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.

According to the World Atlatl Association, early people in the Americas used atlatls to hunt mammoths and mastodons around 11,000 years B.C. Much later, a variety of atlatl types were used in different parts of North America. Many of the large stone projectile points found in North American sites were used with atlatl darts and not arrowheads. Atlatls continued to be used alongside bows and arrows by many Native Americans. Experimentation through the years taught Naive American hunters that by using a spear throwing stick, or atlatl and using a whip-like action to release the spear the weapon would go a greater distance and have a deeper penetration.

Atlatls were used to fish and to hunt large and small game animals. Typically the projectile point of the spearhead was made of hard stone such as flint that was made by a Native American flintknapper. The spearhead was attached to a wooden shaft made of hardwood such as ash, hickory, oak, cedar, walnut or birch. The spear measured about 4 feet long and the atlatl thrower measured about two feet long and was typically made of wood or antler. In time, an atlatl weight was added to the spear thrower as a counter-balance and good luck charm to help the hunter hit his quarry. The spear holder was retained after the spear was thrown and sometimes a leather thong was attached to help the thrower retain it.

The Workshop

Participants in the atlatl workshop will learn the history of the atlatl and how there were used by Native Americans. Under the guidance of atlatl expert Gary Nolf, you will learn about the different designs of this ancient weapon before making your own atlatl and dart.

If you like to make things with your hands and test your skills, then this workshop is for you. A highlight of the day is the test of your workmanship and skill in a just for fun atlatl throwing competition! If you become an atlatl fan, you might want to compete atlatl competitions that are held worldwide!

This workshop ($13 seniors, $15 adults, $11 children, $5 IAIS members) is expected to sell out so make sure to reserve your space by calling 860-868-0518 or emailing Please note that an adult must accompany participants under the age of 18.

The Institute for American Indian Studies

Located on 15 woodland acres the IAIS has an outdoor Three Sisters and Healing Plants Gardens as well as a replicated 16th c. Algonkian Village. Inside the museum, authentic artifacts are displayed in permanent, semi-permanent and temporary exhibits from prehistory to the present that allows visitors a walk through time. The Institute for American Indian Studies is located on 38 Curtis Road in Washington Connecticut and can be reached online or by calling 860-868-0518. The Institute for American Indian Studies preserves and educates through discovery and creativity the diverse traditions, vitality, and knowledge of Native American cultures. Through archaeology, the IAIS is able to build new understandings of the world and history of Native Americans, the focus is on stewardship and preservation. This is achieved through workshops, special events, and education for students of all ages.

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