This story was written by Chuck Wasserstrom and published on the UTC News website.
Maddie Shaw laughed when she was asked what it’s like to construct paleolithic tools.
“It’s nice to know I could survive the apocalypse if needed to,” said Shaw, a senior anthropology major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “It helps you understand how these tools work a little bit more when you are actually having to construct them.”
Shaw is one of several UTC students who has been creating artifacts for a paleo skills workshop occurring from noon-2 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 8, on Chamberlain Field.
The workshop is a collaboration between Assistant Professor Brooke Persons, an anthropologist and director of the Jeffrey L. Brown Institute of Archeology in the Department of Social, Cultural and Justice Studies, and Department of History Associate Lecturer Carey McCormack.
The workshop will have numerous hands-on activities, McCormack said, allowing students to experiment with archaic weaponry and tools to better understand the evolution of human technology around the world.
“This is a combination of history and archaeology,” McCormack said. “She’s looking at it from the experimental archeology aspect, but I’m looking at this as part of human history.
“One of the cool things for my world history classes is that we have awesome local artifacts that we’re going to show.”
The workshop will include demonstrations of paleolithic tools followed by the Moche toss, a game based on the Moche civilization of Peru. Similar to the game of badminton, it uses a type of shuttlecock that is thrown upward.
Before the hands-on activities can take place, though, tools have had to be constructed. Since the beginning of the semester, five anthropology interns and several history department student volunteers have been building paleolithic tools like atlatls and darts in a Brock Hall lab.
“This is a working lab,” Persons said, “and everything we see in this lab is a real archeological project. To have the students working as interns this semester is a really unique approach.
“Most of the time, an archeologist looks at the past and looks at artifacts. Actually learning about how to make tools and how tools are used offers a unique glimpse into the sophisticated technology of indigenous peoples.”
Shaw, a Chattanooga native and Ooltewah High School graduate, described what she has learned about atlatls, tools that use leverage to achieve greater airborne velocity.
“It’s what they used to propel the darts; that’s what makes them go farther and faster—if that makes sense—than if they were to just do it with their arm,” she said. “It’s like the angle that they’re getting on it changes, which I didn’t know or understand how that worked until I threw them.”
The dart, which resembles a spear or javelin, has feathers that keep the hunting weapon in the air longer.
“It’s like a paper plane if you’re thinking about the wings,” she said. “I think it helps stabilize it and give it direction instead of just going wherever.”
Jesa Moore, a sophomore history major from Unionville, Tennessee, said she has enjoyed how hands-on this experience has been.
“I had no experience with stuff like this, so this has been a great learning experience for me,” she said of her volunteering. “I didn’t know what it was going to involve, and when I fully made one, it was pretty cool.”
Anastacia Hudson, an anthropology major in her last semester as an undergraduate student, is interning for Persons this fall.
“There’s a lot of stuff you have to do to make these tools, but it’s fun to make them and get an idea of how they crafted their weapons before they had the things we have,” said Hudson, a native of South Pittsburg, Tennessee. “It takes us hours to make these, and we have hot glue and scissors and screwdrivers and everything—so it makes you appreciate the work it took before.
“I very much appreciate those who did it all by hand.”
Hudson said she looked forward to participating in her first paleo skills workshop.
“And I get to bring my daughter and let her see it, too,” she said. “Let’s see if we can get her interested in this at a very young age.”