David I. Cain

Date of Graduation

Spring 2012


Master of Science in Applied Anthropology


Sociology and Anthropology

Committee Chair

Elizabeth Sobel


atlatl, atlatl weight, bannerstone, experimental, atlatl launch machine

Subject Categories



Multiple experimental studies have attempted to determine the effect that adding stone weights to an atlatl has on the mechanics of atlatl performance. Other studies have focused on the symbolic characteristics of these artifacts. Efforts to determine the function of these items have not produced conclusive results. There is still no consensus concerning the mechanical and symbolic functions of stone atlatl weights. In this study, I begin to resolve this uncertainty through a systematic experimental test of the hypothesis that adding weight to an atlatl results in a mechanical impact on weapon performance. I test this hypothesis by developing and using an atlatl launch machine to control for all sources of variation in atlatl performance. This method allows testing of the weapon effects instead of the human ones (e.g., skill, temporary physiological conditions, and the projection of expected results). A statistical analysis of the data shows that compared to an unweighted atlatl, a weighted atlatl typically produces more precise shots that travel shorter distances. These results support the hypothesis that regardless of any symbolic functions, the atlatl weight had a mechanical impact on weapon performance. These findings raise new theoretical and substantive questions about the costs and benefits of atlatl weights for precontact indigenous Americans.


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