Locals experience prehistory

Brian Hemminger focused on his target for a second Saturday, then hurled his spear toward a painting resembling a prehistoric animal that could have been his dinner thousands of years ago.

Hemminger was among an estimated 50 people participating in the 12th annual atlatl dart throw at Blackwater Draw, site of Clovis man and one of the most important archaeological finds in North America. In 9,000 B.C. Paleo-Indians left traces of their presence along Blackwater Draw, an important hunting ground.

Hemminger became interested in prehistoric life in his science class at Melrose High. He attended the atlatl dart throw with schoolmates to learn more about archaeology.

Saturday's event focused on the atlatl dart, a spear of sorts that, according to local archeologists, is the oldest hunting tool used by humans around the world. Blackwater Draw staff holds two events each year that serve to promote the history of the area.

Benna Sayyed: CMI staff photo

Rose Poitras, a community center director from Bosque Farms, practices her dart throw Saturday during the 12th annual dart throw competition at the Blackwater Draw .

"It's really to have fun and be outside but also to learn this old skill that everyone (ancient humans) would have had throughout history," said Stacey Bennett, an Eastern New Mexico University graduate student who helped coordinate the event. "It was important to learn to hunt, to make things and be able to use your own tools. That's what these kids are learning. They're using tools they've never had their hands on before, but tools that were important for everybody (ancient humans)."

Hemminger crafted his own atlatl dart. He said his darts are fully wooden with a sharp point and are made as accurate as possible.

"I like learning about all the spear points," said Hemminger, a junior at Melrose High.

"I wanted to feel what it was like to be out here and throw them (spears )."

The atlatl dart resembles a large arrow or thin spear and is typically four to nine feet in length and 9 to 16 millimeters in diameter.

The event consisted of a dart throwing competition in which a variety of residents from across the state — Melrose Schools students and teachers, ENMU students, New Mexico Military Institute students and others — competed against each other.

Competitors threw darts at straw targets covered with paintings that resembled ice age animals such as saber-tooth cats, camels, wild horses, antelope and wolves.

The competition was held in the spring draw, a centuries old lake that permanently dried up by 1974 due to a steady decrease in the local water table.

Champion dart throwers received replica Clovis points (spear tips) made by a local flint knapper and certificates. Youth winners received a mammoth hunting license they can use if ever encountering a mammoth or prehistoric elephant.

Maryelle Dickerman, a 7th grader at Melrose Schools, was participating in her first dart throw. Dickerman said she became interested in prehistoric life in her 6th grade science class.

"It's just fun to learn about," said Dickerman, who practices archery as a hobby.

"It's just really interesting that they (archeologists) found stuff from thousands of years ago near Portales."

Dickerman said she hoped to improve at dart throwing with practice.

Since its discovery in 1929, the Blackwater Draw archeological site in Roosevelt County has been a focal point for scientific investigations by academic institutions and organizations from across the nation.


Blackwater Draw site dart throw 2012 winners:

  • Grand champion: Scott Poitras, Bosque Farms
  • Mens Division: Scott Poitras
  • Womens Division: Stacey Bennett, ENMU graduate student and local archeologist
  • Childrens Division: Justly Pierce, Melrose

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