Spearthrower performance: ethnographic and experimental research

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

Year: 1997


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.

Cite this Record

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

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

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.