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Favell spear thrower

This 8,030 year-old atlatl is part of the collection at the Favell Museum. It came from the Nicolarsen Cave, which is located in the Pyramid Lake area between Surprise Valley and Reno.

It still fascinates Pat McMillan.

When someone asks about her favorite item among the thousands in the Favell Museum, she heads for a glassed-in display case that features an array of items collected from the Nicolarsen Cave.

There's a treasure trove of possibilities, including a dazzling display of points or arrowheads, various shaped and sized weights and a marvelous mastodon bone lined with precise, delicate engravings.

"The real feature," McMillan insists, "is the atlatl thrower."

Spear throwers, called atlatls by the Aztecs, were used by prehistoric hunters in the era preceding bows and arrows. The tools acted like an extension of the arm, providing spear throwers with extra leverage in launching spears. That extra leverage meant the spear, also called an atlatl dart, could fly farther and harder than an arm-thrown spear.

McMillan, the museum's curator, says the Nicolarsen Cave atlatl is like no other. Its stone weight, used to give the atlatl balance and heft, was the first found with a cigar-shaped "boatstone" weight. Uniquely, the boatstone remains attached to the atlatl. She says the sinew used to attach weights usually had been chewed off by the time of its discovery. Because the boatstone is attached, it demonstrates that variety of stone was used as a weight.

Read more about the atlatl's age and discovery, as well as why it's so special, inside Friday's print and e-editions of the Herald and News. Click here to subscribe.