Leigh Gardner, park ranger at the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, shows the technique for throwing an atlatl. The Atlatl Days activities at the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park will be held May 31 - June 2.

To participate in a friendly atlatl competition, learn about the prehistoric tool or just watch the contestants show off their skills, join the Atlatl Days activities at the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park. The event is set for May 31 - June 2 in Manchester.


The history of the atlatl goes back thousands of years. The atlatl is a device for throwing a spear, also called dart. Its purpose is to give greater velocity and force to the spear. Since prehistoric times, the tool has been used for hunting and was usually constructed of wood, bamboo, bone or antler. Historically, the spears in this area would have been made out of river cane, which occurs naturally in Tennessee.


Atlatl events

The annual competition has been held at the park for several years, according to Leigh Gardner, OSF park ranger.

June 1 has been recognized as World Atlatl Day since 2012.

“Attendees can expect a weekend of competition, beginning on May 31 and concluding on June 2,” she said. “We are hosting multiple events each year, both competitive events and open events for the public.”

The open events are free and Old Stone Fort will provide participants with the spear and atlatl to practice.

“The event is open to the public, for any ages and any skill level,” Gardner said. “There is no registration. Just show up and have a good time, she added.”

The contests would offer challenges of various difficulty levels.  

“The idea is to hit the target with the dart, which you will be throwing with the atlatl,” Gardner said. “There are various distances, starting at 15 meters. You are throwing the dart at the target and, of course, the idea is to hit the target. But because it is a fun throw, if you don’t hit the target, you don’t lose. The idea is to get you introduced to this weapon and to this tool as a prehistoric technique that the Native Americans used to hunt.”

The competitive events will be scored at the park and then submitted to the World Atlatl Association for official ranking. 

 “The competition is the most interesting part of this event,” Gardner said. “We have local competitors who have been ranked among the top atlatlists in the world.”

The experienced competitors enjoy interacting with those who are just beginning to learn.   

 “The competitors come out here and throw for themselves, but they are also willing to help people who do not know much about the sport learn about the history of the tool and how to properly handle it,” she said.”

Gardner hopes locals gain an interest for the prehistoric tool.

“Not many people are familiar with the atlatl as a tool, even though it was once used by ancient people from many locations across the world,” she said. “This event helps to reacquaint the public with a piece of ancient history and helps them to understand how the prehistoric Native Americans would have thrived in an era before European influence.”


What to expect

This community event seeks to bring people together to the park and connect them with a piece of Tennessee History which was otherwise unknown to them, she added.

Atlatl Days events will be held May 31 - June 2. Atlatl Days event is free to attend and open the public.


May 31

2 p.m. – Open Throw

4 p.m. – ISAC (International Standard Accuracy Competition) Throw 1


June 1

1 p.m. – Open Throw

3 p.m. – State Throw Competition

5 p.m. – ISAC Competition Throw 2


June 2

9 a.m. – ISAC Competition Throw 3

For more information about the event, visit www.worldatlatl.org.


Upcoming events

The park will host a Summer Solstice Sunrise event on June 21.

Tennessee Promise Volunteer Day is set for June 22.

Junior Ranger Camp is June 24-28.

For more information about events held at the park, visit tnstateparks.com/parks/old-stone-fort.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.