Atlatl, an Early Force Multiplier
A cunning little device, the atlatl was an innovations that added that crucial few feet of range to any hand-thrown projectile. An Atlatl is defined by Merriam-Webster as: ‘…a device for throwing a spear or dart that consists of a rod or board with a projection (such as a hook) at the rear end to hold the weapon in place until released.’ Add to that the principle of leverage, and a consequent improvement in projective power, and you have another minor human innovation adding a stage in the steady arms race of mankind.
In principle, a standard atlatl comprises a shaft with a cup or a spur at the rear into which a dart or projectile is fitted. It can be weighed at the end nearest to the spur or cup in order to add flex, or ‘whip’ in the shaft to add additional momentum to the projectile. Typically it is held by the thrower at its extremity, with a finger or two stabilizing the projectile, and when thrown, additional force is imparted to the projectile that allows it to be thrown over a long distance. The projectile is usually flighted, and in skilled hands, can achieve speeds of projection of upwards of ninety miles-per-hour.
Atlatl, or variations of the same technology, appeared simultaneously in several parts of the world, although the word is derived from the Nahuatl language, spoken among the Aztecs, and it was the Aztecs who used it mainly as a weapon of war. Other societies, among them Inuit and various other native American peoples, used it primarily as a hunting weapon. The Roman’s and Greeks used a variation of the same theme, the Amentum, but this comprised a flexible thong as opposed to a shaft, looped at least once around the shaft of the projectile to impart a stabilizing spin.