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Archaeologist discusses the prehistoric weaponry of the Southwest

With the latest iteration of “Star Wars” in the works for the holidays, fans could be forgiven for focusing on thermal detonators and blaster pistols.

Petroglyph National Monument archaeologist Ron Fields prefers a more ancient form of weaponry.

Now a University of New Mexico doctoral candidate, Fields will give a talk about prehistoric weaponry of the Southwest at 2 p.m. today.

Fields has examined and documented more than 500 dart shafts and fore shafts from archaeology sites. He’s also dug for archaeological treasures at Colorado’s Mesa Verde.

Fields will talk about atlatls, darts and shafts. Atlatls are throwing sticks or boards.

“You don’t throw it,” he said. “It’s a stick with a hook on the end. You hook that to the back of a spear. These spears are feathered. That’s why we call them darts.”

Ancient Puebloans used this technology throughout the Southwest, possibly beginning as many as 13,000 years ago, he said.

Wooden artifacts surface across the Southwest and Great Basin areas of Nevada and Oregon, Fields said.

“The low humidity we have here leads to the preservation of these artifacts,” he added.

Today scientists are finding these ancient weapons in glaciers.

“I’ve replicated some of these,” Fields said.

In New Mexico, hunters carved spears from oak because of the wood’s durability. Ancient people made arrows from the reeds they pulled from rivers and lakes.

“They’re hollow,” Fields said. “They’re like bamboo, but they’re very shallow.”

Their makers decorated them with feathers, most likely from turkeys or hawks.

“Most of these are gone today,” Fields continued. “You’ll see the quill because they attached them with animal tendons.”

Archaeologists still speculate about exactly when the ancient armaments gave way to the bow and arrow. Fields is applying for funding for radioactive dating to solve that mystery.

“What fascinates me is how humans use an environment as a tool kit to survive,” he said. “They’re putting things in nature together that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”

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