Throwing a spear with an atlatl is one of the events of ancient skill at the Archeolympics.
Reporting today’s blog post is Vicky Munoz, Archaeology Intern at the Shumla Research and Education Center.
The 7th Annual Archeolympics was held February 22,2014 at Seminole Canyon State Park near
Comstock, Texas, about 35 miles west of Del Rio. The Archeolympics is a primitive skills competition featuring atlatl and spear throwing, rabbit stick throwing, and frictiion fire starting. Ancient people who lived in the Lower Pecos region of Texas used these three basic skills for daily life, but few contemporary folks practice them today. It’s not unusual for today’s paleo-triathletes to compete in all three events.
Participants included Boy Scout groups from Del Rio, Texas; the Experimental Archaeology Club at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas; and a group from San Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas; as well as individuals with a special place in their hearts for Archaic skills, some coming from as far as Houston.
The rabbit stick throwing competition was first up. A rabbit stick is a non-returning boomerang, and was used all over the world as a primitive hunting device. The paleo-athletes took turns lining up and throwing at two defenseless soccer balls that stood in for rabbits about 20 feet down range. Each competitor had three shots per turn. This event, or any of the events for that matter, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Most participants missed the targets, but the crowd went wild when one of those “rabbits” bit the dust. Watch the short video below by Jack Johnson to see the power of a rabbit stick against a mighty opponent, the “Pumpkin.”
A few of the competitors even had hits on all three throws! The bar was set high in this year’s games. Winners had to be determined by sudden death. Juan Carlos won in the youth category (second place went to Josh Allen), and Lauren Kempf in the adult (second was Fabian Castillo and third was Jerod Roberts).
Friction fire starting was the second event of the day. This is definitely the sprint event for the games. The event was open to all ages, but only five competitors were brave enough to enter: Robin Matthews, Jack Johnson, Charles Koenig, Bryan Heisinger, and Jerod Roberts. The rules for this event are deceptively simple: Start a fire using nothing but a spindle or hearth-board as fast as possible. No bow drills, all muscle.
Charles Koenig makes fire
Competitors arrange their kits in front of them on the ground. When the flag drops, the race begins. Within 30 seconds, two were beginning to feed their hungry embers to create that fire. Charles Koenig and Jerod Roberts were neck and neck, but it was the previous champion, Charles, who eventually came out on top with a blistering time of 46 seconds.
The other competitors had to be reminded that the race was not over, and that there were two more places on the podium still up for grabs. They quickly went back to trying to conjure fire. Jack Johnson, also a previous friction fire race champion, added drama to the race by dropping out not just once, but twice, citing exhaustion. He had been doing fire starting demonstrations most of the morning and didn’t have enough energy saved up for the race! Jerod Roberts had also burned most of his energy giving Charles Koenig a run for his money, but managed to get another ember going, only to lose it once more. Exhausted and somewhat defeated, Roberts took a timeout. Watch this short video to see how to start a fire with a sotol drill and hearth stick.
Meanwhile Bryan Heisinger (see www.aswtproject.wordpress.com, Feb. 25, 2014), with laser like focus and coaching from the new champion Koenig, began
Friction fire starting race. Photo courtesy Megan Vallejo.
to get his embers glowing. A newcomer to the sport, Heisinger later recounted how he was so determined to get a fire going that he was forgetting that he also needed to breathe! Clocking in over 4 minutes, Heisinger took second place as the others looked on, clearly feeling the burn (pun intended) in their arms. At just over 6 minutes, Robin Matthews and Jerod Roberts declared a draw and were awarded third place.
After halftime, the atlatl and spear throwing competition began. The sport was divided into amateur, skilled, and team events. This is the real crowd pleasing event and the one with the largest number of competitors. Apparently launching pointed darts at animal targets really gets the adrenaline going. Some competitors are so serious that they bring their own darts and atlatls from home.
Robin Matthews throwing with atlatl and spear. Photo courtesy Shumla.
Scoring is as follows: three points for hitting the target of the deer in the heart/vital area, two points for a hit on the neck and face of the deer target, one point for a hit on any other part of the flesh. The rules to this are also deceptively simple: earn the most points in three attempts.
As the shoot-out began, the wind began to calm down a bit which was a big help to the competitors as they were throwing into the wind. For most of the hunters, the prey eluded them and they went hungry that night but of course, there is always a winner. In the amateur category, Amanda Castañeda took first place with second to Joe Taylor. Amanda delivered a fatal blow to the deer as well as one to her competition.
Those with more experience (and confidence) compete in the skilled category. At this level, the competition is fierce with friends and couples being pitted against one another. Playful verbal jabs are slung at one another, especially within groups where they’re all vying to be the alpha atlatl hunter. It’s all-out war.
Charles Koenig, who also blazed his way to the top in friction fire race, took the top spot in the skilled category with Mallory Marcone taking second, and Jim (just Jim) taking third place. The youngest winner in the skilled competition was Willie Canseco, age 13. Here’s a short clip of the atlatl event, courtesy of Michael Strutt and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
In the team atlatl category, the group known as the Eaglenesters took first place. Troop 255 managed to slip in and snatch second place, and the Sharknados defeated the remaining competition in sudden death for third place. Each team got five shots at the target. Teams were composed of 2-5 people, with every member taking at least one shot.
Prize objects for winners. Photo courtesy Shumla.
Ultimately, it’s important to note that these competitions aren’t just for pride or fun. Each first place winner received a beautiful Perdernales style projectile point knapped by Kinley Coyan from Sanderson, Texas. Unlike the recent Sochi Olympics, however, no national anthems were sung, nor flags raised.
The Archeolympics is the brainchild of National Park Service Archaeologist, Jack Johnson, Amistad National Recreation Area, and organized for the last five years by Park Ranger Tanya Petruney, Seminole Canyon State Park. The
purpose is to give the public the opportunity to get hands on experience while learning about the lifeways of the prehistoric Lower Pecos inhabitants, including demonstrations on flintknapping, fire starting, plant processing, cord making and, weaponry. The event is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, The National Park Service, The Rock Art Foundation, and the Shumla Archaeological Research and Education Center. The event continues to grow every year but as of right now, this is one of Texas’ best kept secrets. Other events similar to this are held around the state year round. For more information on this check out the Texas Atlatl Association Meetup page (http://www.meetup.com/ATLATL/).
Well, that concludes this year’s Archeolympics! If you “like” the Seminole Canyon State Park Facebook
Great competition. Photo courtesy Shumla.
page, they will update you on when the next Archeolympics will be held plus all the other super cool things they have going on all year round. A special thank you to all the staff and volunteers! Without them this event would not be possible. Hope to see y’all next year!