Precision Atlatl and Dart Systems
Over 12,000 years ago, hunters tracking herds of the last ice age across the frozen tundra of what is now the state of Alaska became the first immigrants to enter the North American continent. These hunter-gatherers brought with them a weapon that reigned supreme among them and their descendents for thousands of years to come, the Atlatl. It was the first true weapon system developed by humans, originating in Europe over 30,000 years ago and spreading to every corner of the globe that humans occupied. In fact the Atlatl and Dart were used and improved upon for so long by our ancient ancestors that, comparatively speaking, the Bow and Arrow can be considered a recent development in projectile technology. So powerful and effective was the Atlatl that scientist and scholars speculate that it, along with the overkill tactics so common to the human race, caused the extinction of the woolly mammoth in North America before the end of the ice age.
Largely replaced by the Bow and Arrow around the birth of Christ, it was still being used by some Native Americans during the age of discovery, 500 years ago. When Columbus encountered natives using the Atlatl during his voyages to the New World - Europeans who had long forgotten the weapon - soon became familiar with it again. These encounters were most certainly with the business end of the weapon, the European wondering, "what was that?", just before dying.
The Aztecs preferred the Atlatl as a weapon of war. We get the word "Atlatl" (pronounced at-la-tal) from their language. In fact, the Atlatl and Dart were the only weapon Cortez and his Conquistadors feared because it easily pierced the Spanish armor, often sending the hapless soldier to meet his Maker. If Montezuma had not mistaken Cortez for the Feathered Serpent God Quantzaquatle, history may have been very different, with the 200 or so Spanish conquistadors being only a footnote in the history of that Nation, foolish invaders who were overwhelmed by superior firepower.
Watch video of a dart being thrown with an atlatl (211k).
The Atlatl and Dart have enjoyed widespread use throughout the world. At one time or another people everywhere have used it as their main weapon for food, procurement, and war. Even today it is used by the natives of Australia, Papua New Guinea, and some tribes in South America and Northwest Mexico. But it was in North America - more specifically in what is now the continental United States - that the weapon was developed to its fullest potential. Typically for our species, Native Americans tinkered and toyed with this weapon system, developing and improving the technology to such a high level of sophistication that it is impressive even by today's standards. Just as firearms have developed from muzzle-loaders to breach loaders to lever actions and automatics the Atlatl has undergone a similar evolution.