Wooden spear thrower (atlatl)


British Museum

British Museum

This Mexica spear thrower is called an atlatl in Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Mexica. It is carved in wood and decorated with gold foil and was probably used for ceremonial purposes rather than in actual battle. At least 12 Mexica ceremonial spear throwers are known today.

The atlatl was one of the weapons used by Mexica warriors to propel their darts with greater force. The darts were also made of wood, with points made of obsidian, metal, flint, fishbone or just hardened on the fire. Mexica weaponry also included bows and arrows, slings, spears, clubs and shields.

Warfare played a central role in Mexica life and its importance was reinforced by myths. In the creation myth the gods sacrificed their blood to set the sun in motion. The continual offering of human blood was therefore necessary to maintain the momentum of the universe. The capture of prisoners during battle was essential for this purpose, although they were only sacrificed on special occasions. Self-sacrifice (bleeding several parts of the body) was a common practice among the Mexica and an alternative way for the offering of blood. The expansion of the Empire and the procurement of tribute from newly conquered lands were also fundamental reasons to engage in war.

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  • Title: Wooden spear thrower (atlatl)
  • Date Created: 1400/1521
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 30.60cm; Width: 10.20cm; Depth: 2.60cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Am.5226
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Mexico
  • Period/culture: Aztec
  • Other information: Cultural rights may apply.
  • Material: wood; shell; cotton
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Franks, Augustus Wollaston. Collected by Klemm, Gustav