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Barry Bonnell's Atlatl from Dan Meatte's Workshop

Atlatl Workshop:

I had an absolute blast at the Pacific Northwest Archeology Society (PNWAS) atlatl building workshop on Saturday, 11/01.   PSK member Dan Meatte led the group of 20 or so would-be aboriginals to craft working examples of the ancient Atlatl weapon system.   Dan was wonderfully instructive, expert, patient, informative, and helpful.   I've come to know him to exhibit those traits at every turn; from the lecture on early human geographical evolution a couple weeks ago through what was undoubtedly a very trying day for him as he was swamped with humanity when the expected crowd was nearly doubled by last minute additions. He fielded everything with gentile composure and professionalism.    Well done.

When it came time to put our hands on raw rock, antler, and roughly shaped wood, Dan was fairly inundated with requests for information and help in all facets of the process.   He ended the day with taped up knuckles and bloody scrapes from nudging we noobies along the ancient processes.   It’s probably a fair indication of who put the most in by how many cuts and scrapes they took home, and Dan seemed to champion that in a category all his own.

Of course, aboriginals did not make an atlatl in five to six hours as we did because they didn’t have the use of modern tools.   But dividing one sander, two hack saws, two rasps, and two Dremel tools between 20 students made cooperation an absolute necessity.   That in itself was a study in human interaction that I found very interesting.   For example, it was suggested that polite turn-taking on the sander would keep us all there until next Wednesday, and that more than one person could use the sander at a time.   Soon, six or seven squeezed in to shape wood, bone, and rock into devices that ranged from club-like spear throwers to true artwork.   It was perfectly safe; I can say that now since nobody but Dan was bleeding at the end.

My own effort shown in the accompanying photo was representative and I couldn't be happier with the results.   Dan presented me with a baggie of red ocher dust that he collected from sawing raw materials and I intend to mix it into some hide glue to finish the sinew wrappings as he suggested.   I might use some as a decorative paint as well.   A couple stripes, a diamond or two, and a wiggly snake-like line might give it the touch it needs to be complete.   Dan didn't dream that his gift baggie felt like Christmas morning to me, but it did.   I reached the end of the workshop, actually two hours past the planned end time, without the opportunity to craft a dart, but Dale Croes (PNWAS Director) presented me with two that he’d prepared with feathers early on in the process, another Christmas gift.

Many thanks to Dan and Dale for the organization and journeymen’s effort, and thanks to my classmates for the wonderful experience.   Also, thanks are due Matt Barclay (PNWAS President) for the use of his home and tools. Thanks Matt.

There was talk of a basket-making workshop and in spite of the technical challenges of a one day event, it sounds like it might happen, and I can’t wait.

Visit http://pnwas-society.weebly.com/ for updates

The atlatl pictured is made of Yew wood with an antler point, soapstone “harmonic” balancer, and leather finger strap, all secured with sinew and hide glue.  The finish is cedar oil.

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