‘It’s like prehistoric lawn darts’
It’s a sport that bridges the present and the past — Denali Borough high school students learned firsthand how hard it was to hunt with a tool called an atlatl.
“The technology is pretty simple,” explained Phoebe Gilbert, Denali National Park and Preserve archaeologist. “Have you guys ever seen those Chuckits where you throw a tennis ball for your dog? It’s a similar idea, right?”
Gilbert showed students how to use the atlatl throwing board to sling long darts toward their prey — in this case, a mammoth painted on some cardboard.
She said atlatls were used all over the world, including Alaska, and date back more than 150,000 years.
“A lot of the archaeology and stone points we find at sites in Alaska are what were used to tip these darts and this is a great way for students to learn about history and get interested and the archaeology of the states,” she said.
For students in the intensive cultural program it was a chance to put the history books aside and actually practice the ways of ancient Alaskans.
“I love it because people who live in the cities won’t be able to do this,” said Tri-Valley freshman Victoria Saxe. “In seventh grade I lived in Alabama and I couldn’t just go to my backyard and see a whole bunch of beautiful mountains or moose in my yard.”
“I’ve always liked archaeology,” said Anderson student Sierra Montez. “I thought it was cool how they could find stuff like that from thousands of years ago.”
Throwing with an atlatl isn’t easy, but some students, like Logan Juhl, got the hang of it. He hit the mammoth three out of four times.
“It’s all in the wrist,” he divulged. “You’ve got to have a strong wrist to do it.”
Pairs of students launched the darts while their peers cheered them on.
“It’s like prehistoric lawn darts,” one student laughed.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Juhl said. “I didn’t know about this until recently. I though atlatls were actually spears, not an arrow type of deal.”
Together they worked to take down their prey, which is what their ancestors would have done.
“What is now Denali, people have been hunting here for thousands of years. So it’s good to connect the people who live in the area today with people who lived in the past and this is a great way to do that,” Gilbert said.
Having fun with history is a way to get them interested in preserving the past and see where it can take them in the future.