Missouri in 11,000 BC was home to mastodons and the primitive humans who hunted them. The humans were continuing to improve their weapons for taking game. The hand-thrown spear, or dart, had been modified to include a throwing device that gave the hunter the ability to throw the dart much harder and farther. Now called an atlatl, it is a hand-held wooden or bone shaft, the other end of which fits into the hollowed-out aft end of the 5- to 8-foot long dart. A quick thrust of the arm and flick of the wrist propelled the dart through the air and hopefully into the vital organs of the elephant-sized mastodon.
The bow and arrow wouldn’t be developed for about ten thousand more years. According to information from the World Atlatl Association, the atlatl continued to be used in some areas after the advent of the bow and arrow because it had some advantages:
• It could be used with one hand.
• It could propel heavier projectiles, delivering more momentum.
• A line could more easily be attached for harpooning.
Fast-forward to Nov. 12, 2011. A Missouri deer hunter in St. Louis County bags a white-tailed deer with an atlatl, the first known Missouri deer harvest by that method in modern times. The next day another deer is harvested by atlatl in Grundy County by another hunter.
I can’t explain why the successful Missouri resumption of this ancient hunting method is so comforting and reassuring to me. I’m sure that it has to do with our species’ long history of hunting and the continued presence of that genetic memory in modern generations. With all of our modern hunting technology, we can still do it the ancient way, like starting a fire with no matches or modern tools. Congratulations to the atlatl hunters . . . and to us all.