Weekend event features historical weapon

Freedom New Mexico: Mickey Winfield Eastern New Mexico University associate professor of archeology Dave Batten displays two different styles of atlatls. The eighth annual atlatl throw will be held Saturday morning at the Blackwater Draw dig site north of Portales.

By Mickey Winfield: Freedom New Mexico

Thousands of years ago, man invented a crude tool to help them more efficiently kill prey for food and pelts. Saturday morning, present-day people will gather at Blackwater Draw to learn about and compete with the hunting tool.

It’s called an Atlatl, and it changed the way prehistoric man hunted for food.

Necessity is the mother of invention

An atlatl was a throwing tool invented during prehistoric days of man after the Neanderthals. According to ENMU associate professor of archeology Dave Batten, the weapon may have been used as many as 25,000 years ago, and it showed up all around the world, but they were first found in what is now Europe.

“It’s aim is simply to increase the amount of leverage that you have in throwing a spear,” Batten said. “So, instead of throwing a spear with (only) your arm, you have this 20-inch piece of wood to propel the spear.”

Atlatls provided an immediate upgrade in hunting and gathering, as well as battle in the period after the Neanderthals.

“You find it almost everywhere around the world at some point in prehistory,” Batten confirmed.

How was the tool named

According to Batten, the Aztec Native Americans fought battles with the weapons, and the word atlatl is likely to have come from the Aztecs.

“That’s where the name comes from,” Batten said. “The ‘T’ and ‘L’ sound is very characteristic of things that come out of the Aztec culture.”

Atlatl competition

Eastern New Mexico University’s Department of Anthropology and Applied Archaeology in conjunction with the Blackwater Draw archaeological site will be holding the eighth annual atlatl throw Saturday morning. The competition is free to enter, and will include a target round and an international standard accuracy contest.

Registration and practice will begin at 9 a.m. with the target round scheduled for 10 a.m. Contestants will be grouped by age and sex, and prizes will be available for the winners in each category. Atlatls and darts will be provided.

George Crawford, Blackwater Draw site archeologist,