Yukon summer adventure: The fine art of atlatl throwing
The day before leaving on my 1,500-km solo canoe trip, Grant Zazula, Yukon's paleontologist, gave me a lesson on how to toss a deadly atlatl.
What is an atlatl?
It's a hunting weapon that native hunters used to extend the kill zone when out stalking game.
A regular spear can only reach a limited distance, but by using an atlatl (a length of notched wood helps propel the spear) you can extend your range and force. Native hunters used these until the bow and arrow were discovered, but some people still use it.
Perfecting your atlatl toss is not an easy technique to master in 10 minutes. First you must rest your spear on the atlatl, making sure the end of the spear is sitting in the notched atlatl. Then, you toss the spear, making sure you keep holding on to the atlatl — which acts as an extension of your arm.
"With a little practice you'd be able to bring down a bison," said Grant after demonstrating his technique (which also needed some work).
Yukon has a rich archelogical and paleontological history that draws scientists from around the world to study the prehistorical animals that Grant and his staff dig out of the Klondike Valley. The frozen gravel locks DNA in the bones, unlike most other areas of the world.
When I reach the Klondike Valley in several weeks' time, Grant will be showing me how he digs for woolly mammoths, scimitar cats and prehistoric horses. Can't wait!