An atlatl looks like a very long arrow or spear attached to a stick. The stick has a notch or hook and the arrow or spear is placed in the notch. The thrower brings both the stick and spear to eye level, aiming at the target. Then, for the throw, the arm snaps forward to release the spear but not the stick.
The atlatl is considered one of the best primitive weapons of all time and pre-dates the use of a bow and arrow. From a mechanical standpoint, it adds another joint and length to the arm, and that increases the leverage. The result is the arrow or spear goes much faster and farther than if it was just thrown with a bare hand.
If throwing an atlatl is of interest, the chance to do just that is from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. today at the Wyoming Territorial Prison State Historic Site, 975 Snowy Range Road. Atlatl throwing at some wooden targets is just one of the many activities at today’s Archaeology Fair.
Wyoming State Archaeologist Greg Pierce said there will be plenty of activities. From atlatl throwing to pottery making to soapstone carving — there’s a little bit of everything to interest visitors of all ages.
“There seems to be a lot of interest in archaeology,” Pierce said. “The Fair is an opportunity for people to interact with archaeologists and see what they do and even try some of their activities.”
The Archaeology Fair is one of a number of events hosted by Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources and the State Historic Preservation Office to celebrate Archaeology Awareness Month.
Judy Wolf, state coordinator for Archaeology Awareness Month, said the fair, now in its third year, attracts archaeologists from around the state.
“We’ll have archaeologists on hand from a wide variety of backgrounds,” Wolf said. “It’s a great opportunity to step back in time and experience Wyoming’s history and prehistoric past.”
One of the guest speakers, Willie LeClair, is an enrolled member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe of the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. LeClair has a colorful background that includes bull riding, rodeo announcing, cattle ranching and Native American ceremonial dancing. LeClair will give presentations on Native American spirituality and traditional dance at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
At each of the half-hours between LeClair’s presentations, Native American historian and author Michael “Badhand” Terry will discuss a variety of topics including horses, buffalo, weapons and clothing. Terry might be recognizable since he’s performed in a number of films and TV shows from “Dances with Wolves” to “Wind River” and “The Last of the Mohicans.”
Terry has extensive knowledge of Plains Indians regalia, customs and clothing, having written a book and feature articles on the topic. According to Terry’s website information, he tries to dispel many misconceptions, stereotypes and historical inaccuracies while sharing in a positive, upbeat way what he has learned from his studies and experiences.
The Wind River Dancers from the Wind River Indian Reservation will perform a variety of Native American dances from noon until 1 p.m. The troupe performs men’s traditional, grass and fancy feather and women’s fancy shawl, jingle dress and traditional dances. During the performance, the announcer explains the dance styles and music so the audience can appreciate the connection to Native American culture and heritage.
David Osmundsen from Buffalo, will demonstrate traditional 19th century blacksmithing methods throughout the day. Osmundsen runs a blacksmith school in Buffalo that attracts students from across the country and even internationally. It is one of the few schools available where students can learn traditional blacksmithing methods.
“I’ll make simple items, such as nails, throughout the day,” Osmundsen said. “I’ll post the times for when I’ll make more involved items such as axes and cooking utensils.”
Another activity that will be hands-on as well as part of a demonstration is flint knapping. Wolf explains that it is how chipped stone tools were made.
“It involves knocking stones together and is how stone tools and arrowheads were made,” Wolf said. “It dates back to prehistoric times.”
Go to the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office website at wyoarchaeo.state.wy.us for a full list of activities and more information
Amber Travsky earned master’s degrees in wildlife biology and exercise physiology from the University of Wyoming. She runs her own environmental consulting company, as well as a martial arts school. She authored “Mountain Biking Wyoming” and “Mountain Biking Jackson Hole,” both published by Falcon Books. She is the tour director and founder of the Tour de Wyoming bicycle tour, which crosses the state every July.