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13 November 2005
Pennsylvania hunters may use prehistoric weapon

An ancient weapon that struck fear in the hearts of Spanish conquistadors, and that some think was used to slay woolly mammoths in Florida, may soon be added to the arsenal available to Pennsylvania (USA) hunters.
     The state Game Commission is drafting proposed regulations to allow hunters to use the atlatl, a small wooden device used to propel a 6-foot-long dart as fast as 80 mph. The commission could vote to legalize its use as early as January. It's unclear which animals atlatlists may be allowed to hunt, but the proposal is being pushed by people who want to kill deer with a handmade weapon of Stone Age design. The name, usually pronounced AT-lad-ul, is derived from an Aztec word for “throwing board.”
     In Alabama, one of a handful of states that allows the use of atlatls for hunting or fishing, few hunters use them during deer season, said Allan Andress, the chief fish and game enforcement officer for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Even spear hunters—Alabama game law also allows spears— outnumber those using atlatls. "As you might imagine, it’s not something that most people have the skill or the patience for," Andress said.
     To use an atlatl, throwers hook arrow-like hunting darts into the end of the atlatl, which is generally a wooden piece about 2 feet long. The leverage of the atlatl allows them to throw the 5- to 8-foot darts much farther than they could throw a spear.
     There is evidence that the weapons were used more than 8,000 years ago in Pennsylvania, said Kurt Carr, an archaeologist with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Prehistoric atlatls have a distinctive counterweight feature called a winged banner stone that has helped confirm their existence at digs in Huntingdon and Bucks counties, among other places, said Carr. Atlatl use goes back as far as 12,000 years elsewhere in North America and far longer in Europe.
     If the commission gives preliminary approval in January, a final vote in April could clear the way for atlatl hunting in Pennsylvania late next year.

Source: Associated Press, CBS 3 (12 November 2005)

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