08-16-03: Saving an ancient art
|By JANIE SOUTHARD
COLDWATER - Steve Ross is a big fan of the atlatl, and he's pretty good
At-LAT-el. It's an Aztec word meaning "spear thrower" and was
used long before anyone thought about a bow and arrow.
The atlatl was the weapon of choice for hunters 12,000 years ago and
the Aztecs preferred it for war. In fact, the Spanish invaders in Mexico were most afraid
of this weapon because it alone could pierce their armor.
Ross, an outdoorsman who lives off a long lane on Ohio 118 north of
Coldwater with his family, became fascinated with the atlatl when he saw it in use about
11 years ago.
Ross calls it an at-LAT-el, but some authors give a pronunciation key
of at-ul-at-ul. Pronounce it as you may, the device is the same - a weighted thrower used
to hurl a long (at least five feet) dart through the air at a target. The back end of the
atlatl is shaped like a big crochet hook into which the hollowed end of the dart fits.
Ross and his sons make their own atlatls right down to finding,
grinding and polishing the banner stone (the weight), which is attached to the thrower for
"We had to make our own originally because there was just no place
to get them. Now, we make our own because we enjoy it. It's a good evening activity,"
he said, indicating a small basket of banner stones in various stages of completion.
Some banner stones Ross has seen at World Atlatl Association gatherings
are made of gem stones and, of course, cost thousands of dollars.
Over the years, Ross, who wears his long white/blonde hair in a pony
tail and had Cherokee Indian blood on both sides of his family, has taught many kids to
use the atlatl at various camps and work sessions in Ohio, such as the recent National
Rifle Association Youthfest at the Mercer County Gun Club.
"It is truly the safest weapon for anyone to use. It absolutely
cannot suddenly go off unless you supply the energy," Ross told The Daily Standard
Although he said some people still hunt with atlatls, he and his sons
use it for target shooting and they have their own range out in the side yard.
Ross described the action of the throw as that of throwing a paper
"Keep the atlatl and the dart on a level with your ear. With your
left foot forward, point that foot at the target. Then lean back on your right foot and
bring your whole body forward onto your left foot and release the dart during that
motion," said Ross, who works at Goodyear in St. Marys.
Experienced throwers such as Ross and his sons can send the dart a long
way down the range. But it's not as easy as it looks. Novices often ground it a few feet
in front of the pointer foot.
"The longer the dart the longer the distance you can get. The
world's record set many years ago is 800-plus feet. That's a long throw," said Ross
He said anyone can master this sport with a little coaching and a lot
"The key is the balance between the atlatl, the dart and the
person throwing. Some people just have the knack of it right away; with others, it takes
longer. But like anything else, to be good at it takes lots of practice," he said.
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