get in touch with your hunting and survival-skills roots?
Take up knapping (chipping into shape) a flint stone, or
try throwing a dart (spear-sized arrow) with an atlatl
(pronounced "at LAT al") with force and accuracy.
These were just two of the many activities visitors could
see and have a hands-on experience with during the Stone Tool
Craftsman Show held each year in late August at Letchworth
This year's show included the 14th Annual Genesee Valley
Modern knappers have developed their skills to such a
degree - at both shaping stone forms and recreating ancient
stonework - that many apparently "old" arrowheads and
spearheads often require the expertise of a lithic analyst or
Jim Fisher, a Grand Island educator, has spent more than a
quarter of a century at typology, or the authentication of
artifacts. "Most authentic "arrowheads' people find in Western
New York are actually spear points that were used on an atlatl
dart," Fisher said. The oldest clovis points found in this
area can be as much as 12,000 years old, but most heads
average 3,000 to 7,000 years.
"True arrowheads," Fisher noted, "are finds of less than
2,000 years old." Much smaller than heads used as atlatl
spear-points, arrowheads used on a bow can be a gem to find,
but also they can become an authentication puzzle.
"Proving that an item is really an original, not a modern
reproduction, is as much a science as you can make it,"
he said. When documenting an item, he looks at its geochemical
properties, kind of weathering, attributes of flaking in its
manufacturing process and other aspects to authenticate that
Fisher has been collecting authentic lithic artifacts since
age 11. He majored in anthropology and archaeology while a
student at the University at Buffalo. His authentication
service is the only one in this area. But his involvement in
knapping, actually taking up a stone and shaping another,
seriously began about six years ago when he attended a Dan
Long flint knapping class presented at the Buffalo Museum of
Long, with more than 13 years at knapping stone found in
southern Ontario, became Fisher's mentor, which resulted in
making contact with other knappers in this state and around
Long lives in Chippawa, Ont., along a chert, a lane of
bedded deposits, which is a major seam running across New York
State along Route 5 and across Ontario on the north shore of
Lake Erie. Onondaga cherts, embedded in limestone, dominate
this area, he said.
With all this raw material at hand in the area, Fisher
estimates less than a half dozen serious knappers are active
in Western New York and about two dozen statewide.
"Actually, the Genesee Valley Knappers is more a statewide
rather than regional group," he said, noting that most get
involved with the help of a teacher-partner such as his friend
Fisher and Long mainly knap accurate reproductions of
atlatl dart points, and arrow points. Reproductions of knives
and axe and adz heads usually are made with more modern tools.
To find out more about knapping and authenticating artifacts,
go to Fisher's web site: http://www.creeksideartifacts.com/.
Making these tools can take time, patience and more time
before enjoying the satisfaction of creating a workable tool.
But tossing a spear-dart with an atlatl can become an instant
Patient instructors helped atlatl shooters at Letchworth
that warm, sunny August day, as kids, grandparents and anyone
interested in trying cast their three arrow-darts at various
An Eastern Seaboard Atlatl Competition and an International
Standard Accuracy Contest drew spectators, but the major draw
was the pure fun of trying this ancient tool that fed and
furthered the survival of people around the world many
thousands of years ago. Today it's still an effective hunting
Ben Brauchler of Fredonia, helping his son line up on a
target, said he recently took a fallow deer on a hunting
preserve in Candor. "New York State doesn't allow hunting with
spears, so hunters have to go to preserves when hunting," he
Bob Burg, from Candor, supplied the equipment for this
atlatl toss open to all. He noted that this device used at
least 20,000 years ago can still be seen in use in some parts
of the world today. He cited the "woomera," which Australian
aboriginals make and use regularly.
Whether seriously hunting, practicing for a competition or
just making a few tosses in the back yard, this device can add
a measure of relaxation as well as exercise each time out.
Burg supplies all kinds of atlatl equipment through his
company, Thunderbird Atlatl. For more information, check with
him at (800) 836-4520 or go to his Web site: http://www.thunderbirdatlatl.com/