Published on March 7, 2013 by Amy

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Definition of the Atlatl. The Atlatl was an ancient type of Spear thrower, a ‘throwing stick’ used to throw a spear with greater propulsion towards the quarry. The Atlatl was used to propel throwing-spears or “darts” and used prior to the appearance of the bow and arrow. Essentially the Atlatl lengthens the length of the spear thrower’s arm and with a loaded, spring-like, action can provide the benefit of greater force and distance over that of the hand thrown spear. The spears thrown from the Atlatl ranged between 4 – 5ft in length. The Atlatl had a range up to 500 feet and the power to inflict serious injuries with more speed, force, and accuracy than spears that were thrown by hand alone. The word ‘Atlatl’ derives from Aztec meaning a spear throwing stick device. How do you pronounce Atlatl? Try this: “at-uhl at-uhl”.

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Who used the Atlatl?

The Atlatl was used in most parts of North America prior to the appearance of the bow and arrow. The Atlatl were commonly used by the Pueblo and Creek Native American tribes in the Southwestern area of America for hunting deer, elk, rabbit and bears. The Atlatl was also used by the Artic and Sub-Artic Native American tribes in the far Northern areas of America for hunting land animals and large marine animals such as whales.

Description of the Atlatl

The picture of the Atlatl helps to understand how this ancient weapon works! The first thing required was a spear to throw from the spear thrower.

The projectile point was a spearhead made of a hard stone such as Flint by a Native American Flint Knapper

The spearhead was attached, or ‘hafted’, to the wooden shaft of the spear or ‘dart’

The spear, or dart, measured about 4 feet long

The spear thrower shaft was made of a hardened wood such as maple, ash, hickory, juniper, oak, cedar, walnut and birch

The Atlatl thrower measured about 2 feet long and consisted of a flat, thin shaft made of wood or antler

At one end of the spear thrower was the ‘grip’ – where the thrower would grip the weapon.

The other end of the Atlatl was a ‘spur’ or ‘cup’ in which a hollowed area in the end of the spear rested. The spur was a blunt point carved into, or added onto, the end of the atlatl. The spur point or tip fits into a hole (or cup) in the end of the dart.

A small weight was hafted to the midsection that served as a counterbalance and was also a way of adding additional thrust

Throwing the Atlatl

Throwing an atlatl required skill and a secure grip on both the thrower and spear to keep the two engaged until the spear was thrown. Feathers were sometimes added to the spear to increase accuracy. The use of the Atlatl improved the ability of the hunter to cast a spear farther and faster due to the mechanical advantage of lengthening the arm, increasing the amount of thrust and killing power of the weapon.

Source: warpaths2peacepipes Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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American Psychological Association (APA):

Atlatl Unabridged. Retrieved May 27, 2015, from website:

Chicago Manual Style (CMS):

Atlatl Unabridged. Native American Encyclopedia (accessed: May 27, 2015).

Modern Language Association (MLA):

"Atlatl" Unabridged. Native American Encyclopedia 27 May. 2015. <>.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE):, "Atlatl" in Unabridged. Source location: Native American Encyclopedia Available: Accessed: May 27, 2015.

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@ article {NativeAmericanEncyclopedia.com2015,
    title = { Unabridged},
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    day = 27,
    year = 2015,
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