Before the Bow and Arrow Atlatl Workshop @ Institute For American Indian Studies

When people think of Native American weapons, bows and arrows are among the first things that spring to mind, and with good reason. Just about every Native American community 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, along with people from many other cultures worldwide used something called an Atlatl for hunting and fishing. Essentially an atlatl is a dart thrower that allows hunters to throw a dart or arrow farther and faster than by hand alone. 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, Atlatl Workshop with Susan Scherf, on May 11 from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.

The Workshop

If you like to make things with your hands and test your skills, then this workshop is for you. Participants in the atlatl workshop will learn about the history and different designs of this useful ancient weapon that was used by Native Americans as well as by a multitude of cultures around the world. Under the guidance of atlatl expert and IAIS Educator, Susan Scherf, participants will learn about the different designs of this ancient weapon before making their own atlatl and dart.

The fun really begins with learning how to use your newly made atlatl and seeing how much farther your arrow goes. The atlatl session ends with a friendly atlatl throwing competition. If you become an atlatl fan, you might end up competing in atlatl competitions that are held throughout the world!

This workshop is $5 for members of the Institute and $15 for non-members and, an adult must accompany participants under 18. To reserve your spot for this fun and educational workshop call 860-868-0518 or email

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.

Birdstone atlatl weight

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.

About The Institute for American Indian Studies (IAIS)

Located on 15 woodland acres the IAIS preserves and educates through archeology, research, exhibitions, and programs. We have an outdoor replicated 16th c. Algonkian Village, Wigwam Escape Room, Museum with temporary and permanent displays of authentic artifacts from prehistory to the present that allows visitors to foster a new understanding of the world and the history and culture of Native Americans. The Institute for American Indian Studies is located on 38 Curtis Road in Washington Connecticut.

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