General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 8 May 2021/9 Flower
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Aztec wind god holding dart and dart-thrower (atlatl), Codex Laud


The ‘atlatl’ was already very ancient by the time the Spanish arrived and conquered the Mexica/Aztecs. Read all about the background by clicking on the link below... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

The leather finger-grip towards one end of a modern ‘Basketmaker’ style atlatl
The leather finger-grip towards one end of a modern ‘Basketmaker’ style atlatl (Click on image to enlarge)

In the meantime, here is the clearest codex image we’ve yet found of the atlatl being held, with two fingers in the leather grip - not in the real-life throwing position, but in a formal pose. The picture shows the wind god Ehécatl, in the Codex Laud (p. 6), armed with a dart in his left hand and and an atlatl in his right (the missile thrower - the atlatl - was usually much smaller than the missile itself). It’s not surprising that gods are often shown holding atlatls, as it was the Mesoamerican weapon most associated with gods.

The ornately carved head of the British Museum atlatl
The ornately carved head of the British Museum atlatl (Click on image to enlarge)

Atlatls were often beautifully and ornately carved (did you see the two on display in the British Museum Moctezuma exhibition?) - Moctezuma II donated a particularly fine one with a turquoise head in the form of a serpent to Cortés in 1519. Many scholars believe that these exquisitely carved ones would have been more for use in ceremonies and rituals than in real life warfare and hunting. The carvings on the British Museum atlatl were originally gilded, and show a warrior (Carmen Aguilera believes it’s actually the male god of the Milky Way, Mixcóatl) entwined with the body of a rattlesnake. Serpents often represented fired darts in Aztec art, reflecting the way some species of snake almost shoot into the air when attacking prey.

Incidentally, tests carried out by friends of ours in Mexico who engage in experimental archaeology have put the range of the - highly accurate - atlatl at up to 150 metres, with the darts flying through the air at around 90 mph!

Finally, we know that the atlatl was also a skilled fishing device both in pre-Hispanic times and still today. Carmen Aguilera reports (Ensayos sobre la Iconografía, vol. II, 2010, p.170) research showing its use in Mexico in the mid-20th century, and its continued employment by the fishermen of Lake Pátcuaro today.

Image sources:-
• Codex Laud (original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford): image scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile edition, Graz, Austria, 1966
• Two photos of atlatls by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

emoticon Q. What did an Aztec warrior shout after chasing and spearing an enemy?
A. ‘Got him - atlatlast!’

Our main feature on the atlatl

World Atlatl Association online forum
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Here's what others have said:

Mexicolore replies: If you follow the links on our other, more detailed, feature on the atlatl, you’ll find some good simple demonstration videos. Here’s the other atlatl page -