Needham Elementary fourth graders hurled balls through the air with hand-held launchers last week to learn the mechanics of ancient spear throwing tools used by archaic Native Americans.
Ball launchers, arrowheads, replicas of bow drills for lighting fires and other hands-on materials provided by the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History helped students relate to ancient people while studying Colorado history.
Studying ancient people and how they adjusted to climate changes can help inform the present, said James Hakala, senior educator with CU’s Museum of Natural History.
“The more we know the past, the better prepared we are for the future. It’s providing the context for people as we move into uncertain times, or unknown times; we can look at how people adjusted,” he said.
More than half of Colorado fourth graders from 483 schools in 131 school districts use the archaeology kits, meant to ensure students can better understand the lives of ancient people.
For example, atlatls invented by the archaic people who inhabited Colorado between 6500 BC and 200 AD replaced hunting animals with spears by hand and allowed hunters to stay farther away from their prey.
Students passed around a replica atlatl about 18 inches long to see how the design could provide better leverage than simply using a spear.
“Instead of Billy Bob going up and stabbing a woolly mammoth and getting stomped on, why don’t we hunt further away?” teacher James Fitzpatrick told his fourth graders to help explain the reasoning behind the tool.
To fourth grader Jessie Watson, the atlatl seemed like a much safer option than hunting bison or woolly mammoths with spears.
“It would be scary to hunt something that’s as tall as a great tree,” she said.