Last week I journeyed to Palatka for Eco Adventure Days at Ravine Gardens State Park. Not only is the park beautiful, but the day was fun too. With a group of about fourteen kids I talked to them about archaeology, replicas of Timucuan artifacts, and (most importantly to the kids) we threw atlatls.
After my lovely drive to Palatka, I was greeted by a sea of still slightly sleepy faces. I worked to wake them up and get their brains interested in and thinking about archaeology. We started off by exploring what their ideas of archaeology are. I was surprised (and pleased) that dinosaurs and Indiana Jones never came up. I knew I had an awesome group of kids at that point. We talked about technology and how people today might have the same basic needs (food, shelter, water, clothing, et cetera) as people in the past, though we use our resources differently. The kids, for example, realized that the Timucua did not have cars, shopping carts and bags, or grocery stores like we do. Instead Native Americans relied on other methods of feeding themselves, such as hunting and cultivation. Their technology suited their needs, but are quite different from what we use.
Our discussion of technology and the replicas of items such as gourds and buckskin (from a deer or moose for example) segued perfectly into the highlight of the day--atlatls! (On a side note: I learned two awesome facts about the process of making a buckskin. Smoke from a fire makes the material fireproof and deer (as I was talking about deer skin in this case) have exactly enough brain to lubricate their own hide.
Finally we made it to the courtyard area where we could throw atlatls. The kids threw one round with Chuck-its, a safer version of spear throwing that involves tennis balls instead of projectile point-like tips. After the practice round the kids used the real thing and loved it! They could experience and witness how the atlatl acts as an extra elbow. The additional thrust from the atlatl causes the spear to travel faster and further. Everyone (even the park rangers!) were eager to use the spears. Many kids impressed the adults by how far, and how well, they could throw. We had a few balls fly into the fountains and a few spears that came close as well.