At a recent event, Ray Madden and I were approached by a gentleman with an atlatl he had purchased as an antiquity. It was labeled “found in a cave in Arizona” but we both immediately recognized it as a Northern Australian type. The different forms of Australian spearthrowers are distinctive. Fairly large numbers were collected from the 19th century on, and some are still being made and occasionally used. They are different from the atlatls familiar to most American atlatlists. In general, Australian spearthrowers are relatively large and heavy, sometimes very long. Some were used with solid wood spears, up to 3m long and over 200 gm weight, while others propelled composite spears with light shafts and heavy wooden foreshafts or points of wood, stone, and later metal. But that oversimplifies; there were also light forms, very long and whippy, that threw light darts considerable distances. I don’t think we modern atlatlists have experimented enough with Australian forms – I suspect that really long flexible atlatls, and very long heavy atlatls and spears may work differently from the relatively light gear we use.
Historic Australia illustrates how a simple technology, the atlatl or spearthrower and its accompanying projectiles, can develop enormous variability during millennia of use across a large area.