Using an Atlatl as a Time Machine

Written By: Joe Herring - Mar• 12•14


Sometimes, a number has no meaning, especially a big number. There is evidence people have lived in the Texas Hill Country for at least 10,000 years. I have a hard time comprehending that many years.

Tell me something happened 500 years ago, and I can imagine seeing Christopher Columbus and his three little boats — the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. I have a frame of reference for imagining that amount of time.

But 10,000 years? I really cannot imagine a number that large when it refers to time. Here’s a trick that helps: Divide 10,000 by 20 to yield a guess as to the number of generations of families who have lived here. Five hundred generations is still too many for me to comprehend, but about 500 generations of people have spent time in our part of Texas.
The Kerr County Album reports Dr. Don Priour found a Clovis point on the south fork of Guadalupe. These points were in use more than 10,000 years ago. According to Wikipedia, “The Clovis culture (sometimes referred to as the Llano culture) is a prehistoric Paleoindian culture that first appears in the archaeological record of North America around 11,500 radiocarbon years ago, at the end of the last glacial period. Archaeologists’ best guess at present suggests this is equal to roughly 13,000 calendar years ago.” That puts people here in our county at about the time the last Ice Age ended. If scientists are correct, the end of the Ice Age was quite dramatic, with temperatures rising 10 to 15 degrees in a very short time, say five years. The suddenly warmer temperatures would have fostered many opportunities for those early visitors to the Hill Country. New varieties of game, previously unknown here because of the cold weather, would have been found here. Those early people were here, because the game was here. They were here to capitalize on the opportunities that climate change had afforded them.

These early folks didn’t have bows and arrows, relying instead on a throwing stick called an atlatl.

Aside from that Clovis point found by Priour, and others possibly resting in collections throughout the Hill Country, these early people left no record. The only pictographs in Kerr County (that I know of) are probably the record of a much later group, since one of the images seems to be a horse.

A few years ago, the Hill Country Archaeological Association offered a one-day event at the Riverside Nature Center, which I attended. One of the booths was manned by my friend, Bryant Saner, and offered visitors a chance to use a replica of the ancient atlatl (throwing stick).
The version on display was rather high-tech. It was a modified modern arrow — an arrow with an extension on its back, to make it longer. The separate throwing stick (atlatl) had a finger that fit into a hollow on the end of the elongated arrow.

Once the area was clear of innocent bystanders, I threw the spear-like thing at a target that was in front of a wall made of hay bales. Let’s just say the target was safe, but the bales of hay were in peril. Though I threw poorly, at that moment, I felt a connection to someone who’d lived here a very, very long time ago. I don’t know his name, what he looked like, what he dreamed about, what he hoped for, what he worshiped, or even what he animal he was hunting here.

But at least I know he was here, and I remembered him.

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