Spring 2015: From Atlatls To Arrows, By Mike Toner.
For thousands of years, North America’s ancient people relied on an ingenious spear-throwing device called the atlatl to hunt game and wage war. Then they discovered, and eventually embraced, a new technology: the bow and arrow. “The introduction of the bow had profound implications for population aggregation and density, subsistence and settlement strategies, as well as an impact on trade and warfare,” says University of Missouri archaeologist Todd Vanpool.
The timing of the bow and arrow’s introduction and its replacement of the atlatl varied from region to region. Although some experts believe that early versions of the bow, which is often called the self bow, were used in the Arctic as much as 12,000 years ago, the preponderance of archaeological evidence suggests that this technology didn’t reach much of North America until roughly 1,600 years ago.
Bows were made of wood and sinew. The strings were animal gut or plant fibers. Arrow shafts were wood and feathers. The atlatl was wooden too—from its spear shaft, or dart, to the socketed stick used to hurl the spear. As a result, except for a few sites with exceptional preservation—dry caves, bogs, and ice patches where organic materials are well preserved—evidence of the transition from atlatls to bows and arrows is largely writ in the stone and bone points that have survived.
Summary. Read more in American Archaeology Vol. 19 No. 1