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Spearthrower performance: ethnographic and experimental research

Author(s): Wallace K Hutchings ; Lorenz W Brüchert

Year: 1997

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J. Whittaker: [Key article, good references] Experimental focus has been on how spear thrower works - but performance capability is more interesting. Browne, Butler, Patterson threw incorrectly, thus failed to evaluate right.

More than 1/2 spear velocity comes from "rotational acceleration of wrist and forearm" [so does atlatl work by magnifying that?]. Velocity data should not be derived from distance throws - measure directly at launch and target by photo.

Dart variation affects performance more than atlatl.

Ethnog range of dart lengths is 1.2 m (Eskimo) to 3.4 m (Australia).

American West darts from caves consistently light (45-90 gm), short (116-160 cm).

Ethnog hunting range data poor (Arctic + Aust refs), suggest accurate range 10-30 m.

Coleman's Georgia boar hunts - 51 hits, 58 misses, kills from 3-46 m, average 15 m.

Velocity measurements by others 20 to 40 m/sec.

Tested darts 82-545 gm at 15 m target distance. Velocity 28-64 m/sec, averages 33-47 m/sec, even heavy dart worked fine, 220 gm best matched to atlatl - need match so dart flex and oscillation “allows it to spring away from the hook after maximum acceleration of the spear thrower.” [Velocity maximums are probably too high - see Whittaker and Kamp 2007].

Would produce >350 Joules kinetic energy, = 4x arrow from modern bow.

Conclusions: 1) Need adequate skill to test. 2) Spearthrower not inaccurate or inefficient. 3) More powerful than generally realized - capable of more force than arrow, and when used at similar ranges, equivalent accuracy. 4) Replacement probably because bow easier to use.

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Cite this Record

Spearthrower performance: ethnographic and experimental research. Wallace K Hutchings, Lorenz W Brüchert. Antiquity. 71 (274): 890-897. 1997 ( tDAR id: 416355)


Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): EXARC Experimental Archaeology Collection Manager

Record Identifiers

ExArc Id(s): 2611


Rights & Attribution: The information in this record was originally compiled by Dr. Roeland Paardekooper, EXARC Director.

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America