(March 8, 2016)—On February 26, a group of us gathered under an expansive mesquite ramada at Himdag Ki, the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum in Topawa, Arizona. I had been invited to show the group how to make atlatls using only stone tools. I had planned on six students, but fortunately I brought enough materials for more than 10. Many others who work at Himdag Ki came out to see what we were doing and joined us.
We started more than 10 atlatls and finished most of them over the course of the day. We couldn’t have asked for better weather! Everyone was engrossed in the project. We made the atlatls out of small oak tree trunks that I had already shaped a bit. The tools we used were pieces of flaked stone and jagged pieces of vesicular basalt to shave and carve the wood. The basalt “rasps” worked well for scraping through the knots and difficult grain spots. By dipping the wood in water periodically, we were able to progress the carving at a faster rate. By the end of the day, we put the eight finished atlatls to use throwing darts.
All who attended said they came away with a better understanding of how stone tools were used and a greater respect for their ancestors and the technologies used by them. I enjoyed hearing stories told to the group and the murmur of stories participants told among themselves. Next month I will be back to teach flintknapping classes with many of the same participants, all as intrigued by ancient technologies and as eager to learn more as me!