Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Besant Atlatl Dart Reproduction

Besant dart reproduction
The Besant Phase was an interesting time period on the Northern Plains of North America, that began sometime around two thousand years ago and saw the introduction of pottery and the spread of the bow an arrow into the region.  The bow and arrow replaced the atlatl during the Besant Phase, with earlier, larger points likely tipping atlatl darts and smaller, later points likely hafted onto arrows.  This reproduction is meant to accompany a Northern Plains style atlatl that I made last spring, so it uses a larger Besant projectile point hafted onto a dart shaft.

Straight with real world imperfections
To the best of my knowledge, there haven't been any complete Besant darts recovered, so I used darts found in arid caves in the Great Basin region of the US and on caribou ice patches in northern Canada as my templates.  I wanted a fairly light dart, but I could afford to give it a bit of length.  The atlatl that it is designed to accompany has a stone weight attached to it, which will help balance a long or heavy dart while in use.  I don't have access to the actual atlatl and my atlatls at home don't have weights, so there is a bit of guess work involved, but I think it should be close to being in balance.

The dart is 5 feet long, including the foreshaft, which is approximately 12 inches long.  The atlatl in the picture is the same length as the Plains atlatl this dart is designed for, but lacks a weight.


The general shape of the foreshaft and the foreshaft/main shaft socket are based on Great Basin atlatl darts.  I used this design because its the same style of foreshaft and socket that I use on my cane darts at home.  If the client decides to order additional darts or different point styles mounted in different foreshafts, then I can match them to my darts here in St. John's and be confident that they will fit with this dart in Calgary.

The foreshaft tapers to a simple, conical point that fits into a drilled socket in the mainshaft.  Its held in place by friction. The sinew lashing is there to prevent the mainshaft from splitting.


I added sinew over the pitch and ochre
I used darts found on ice patches in the Yukon as my references for the mainshaft and the glue used to attach the point to the foreshaft.  I used pitch mixed with red ochre to glue the point into place and to smooth the transition between the stone and the wood foreshaft.

Melting and mixing the ochre and pitch.  I wanted to duplicate the ochre staining found in the hafting area of ice patch projectile points and give it a colour and texture that matched the rough and ready feel of many Besant projectile points.

Scarfed join bound with sinew and hide glue
I straightened the the long shoot that I used for the main shaft using dry heat, but there was a sharp kink in the middle that I couldn't work out.  It wasn't so severe that it would have had a big impact on the aerodynamics of the dart, but it didn't look very pretty.  I cut the shaft at that kink and scarfed it back together.  The scarf joint matches the joins found on many of the atlatl darts recovered from the Yukon ice patches.

  Most of the other features of the dart are shared between both the Great Basin and the Yukon ice patch archaeological reference darts.  They both have shallow sockets at the feathered end of the dart to fit the spur on the atlatl.  The feathers are tied fairly close to the socket and the sinew binding serves double duty to attach the feathers and prevent the socket from splitting.  I wanted a utilitarian looking dart, with real life wobbles in it so that it doesn't look like it was made on a store bought dowel.  I used a long shoot that I found in my wood box. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but willow or lilac are the most likely candidates.  I tossed it a few times with a blunt foreshaft just to see how it flies and it works very well.  This is intended to be a display piece, but I want it to be a fully functional and as accurate as possible display piece.

I went with dark brown goose feathers for no particular reason, other than I felt they were a complimentary colour to the dark point and bookended the light coloured dart nicely.

Chert point, red ochre and pitch, sinew bindings, poplar foreshaft, wood mainshaft (willow or lilac shoot), goose feathers, , hide glue

 Photo Credits: Tim Rast

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