The Archaeolympics

By: Bryan Heisinger

Last Saturday while the world was watching the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the 7th annual Archaeolympics sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife, Shumla, The Rock Art Foundation, and the National Park Service was taking place in Seminole Canyon State Park. People young and old came out to watch and attend the games in this all-day event. Archaeologists, outdoor enthusiasts, students, and scout troops matched their wits in three competitions: Atlatl, Rabbit Stick, and Friction Fire in hopes to obtain bragging rights for their dexterity, and a chance to win the first place grand prize of a replica Pedernales projectile point.

The first competition to take place on Saturday morning was the Rabbit Stick.  Rabbit sticks are considered a non-return boomerang, and were used by people in the Lower Pecos region for thousands of years for hunting small game. Contestants had three chances to throw a rabbit stick at two strategically placed soccer balls in attempt to knock them off their mounts. Some contenders did great, and others missed all three shots completely. Overall, it was a great warm-up for the next two events.

Rabbit Stick

Jacob throwing the rabbit stick. (Photo courtesy of Shumla)

The friction fire was the second competitive event on Saturday. Archaeologists working in the Lower Pecos have recovered numerous friction fire spindles and hearth boards from the dry rock shelters.  Charles Koenig, Jack Johnson (N.P.S. Archaeologist), Jerod Roberts (President of the Texas State Experimental Archaeology club), myself, and Texas Archeological Society member Robin Matthews, faced off in a race to see who could be the first to create a flame using just two sticks.  As soon as the announcer shouted go, the five of us quickly grabbed our spindles and began to rub our hands rapidly back and forth in a downward motion to get the friction we needed to create an ember. Once the ember began to smoke, we gently dropped it into a bundle of dry tinder and began to blow softly on it until the tinder caught fire. Charles took home first place, as well as a few hand blisters, with an impressive 46 second friction fire.

Friction Fire

Charles, Bryan, and Jerod creating a friction fire. (Photo courtesy of Shumla)

The last competition of the day was the atlatl throw. The atlatl—or spearthrower—was a predecessor to the bow and arrow, and was used by hunters in the Lower Pecos until around 1000 years ago to kill deer and other large animals.  An atlatl is pretty simple, consisting of about a 2-foot long piece of wood with a “spur” attached to its distal end (the spur serves a similar purpose as a nock on an arrow string).  The dart (or spear) fits onto the spur, and then the atlatl is used to propel the dart with much more velocity than you could throw by hand.  For this competition, contenders threw spears at a 3D foam deer target. Points were based on the area of the deer that spear hit. After several long and intense atlatl rounds, Charles once again reigned champion of the atlatl throw.


Charles getting ready to use the atlatl. (Photo courtesy of Shumla)

After the games were complete, awards were presented to the winners and people slowly began to head home. ASWT was happy to take part in the Archaeolympics, and we are are looking forward to next year’s event!

Team Bobcat

ASWT, Shumla, and Texas State’s Experimental Archaeology Club Members. (Photo courtesy of Shumla)

One thought on “The Archaeolympics

  1. What a great event! I wish that I had known that it was going to happen. Please, keep me posted on upcoming events and anything that would allow the public to participate and see, first hand, what you guys are doing.

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