It is unlikely any student in Kelly Maharaj's seventh-grade archaeology class at Challenger K8 will need to head into the woods after school to hunt for dinner.
But after a recent lesson on prehistoric hunting, some of them might be able to do so. At least, theoretically.
Maharaj invited maritime archaeologist Nicole Tumbleson and registered professional archaeologist Rich Estabrook to the school to demonstrate atlatls, prehistoric dart-throwing enhancement devices.
Estabrook is director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, and Tumbleson works with him as an outreach coordinator. They cover an area that includes counties from Hernando to the south and Alachua to the north. They are based at the preserves headquarters near the Crystal River Archaeological State Park in Citrus County.
Students filed out to the football field on a recent cool and sunny afternoon to find Tumbleson and Estabrook waiting for them with darts and atlatls. Maharaj had already distributed worksheets for the students to record their throwing distances.
Estabrook said the dart can be a long, wooden arrow up to 8 feet long. The ones on hand were closer to half that size.
Merely throwing a dart is neither quick nor strong enough to down an animal, he said. Inserting the dart into a small depression in an atlatl and using it to help throw the dart adds power and distance.
Estabrook said prehistoric technology is not necessarily primitive technology. To make his point, he and Tumbleson let students try so they could see how much an atlatl enhances a throw.
The darts the students used had metal points on the ends. Prehistoric people used stone points. The archaeologists brought some examples.
As students took turns throwing darts with and without the atlatl, Maharaj explained that if she had just told the children or they had simply read about atlatls, they probably would not remember them. Holding one and using it makes a stronger impression, she said.
She hopes outings like this and trips to the Crystal River archaeological site will help students appreciate primitive people and the importance of preserving artifacts.
Kelsey Kolasa, 12, said it is easier to throw the dart alone, but the atlatl increased the distance. "If you use an atlatl, it goes farther," she said, "because you have something to propel the dart with."
Dominic Rufa, 12, said the archaeologists' visit taught him the basics of the atlatl and "a little information about how the Indians hunted."
Andrew Szabo, 12, said, "I learned that prehistoric people were not that far behind; they were just as smart as we are. They just didn't have the time we have."
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.