Dr. Javier Urcid Discusses Various Purposes of Mesoamerican Dart Throwers

Dr. Javier Urcid argued that dart throwers served both a functional and ceremonial purpose in his presentation titled, “Splendidly Crafted Dart Throwers from Mesoamerica: As Actual Weapons of War and Instruments of Sacrifice,” on Tuesday night. A dart thrower is a piece of wood that acts as a lever to throw a dart with great speed. One end of the instrument contains a hook, and the opposite end contains a handle. To prevent the dart from getting lost, dart throwers have a finger loop on the top made from shell or soap stone patterns as well as deer antler hooks. An average dart is around thirty centimeters in length. Urcid said he analyzed the carvings on various dart throwers and looked for the historical significance of these designs to reach the conclusion that, “dart throwers were used for warfare, as well as aquatic and terrestrial hunting.” “I have compiled evidence from all over the world to support this thesis, and hope that by presenting this information, the ideas will become more widely accepted within the archaeological community,” said Urcid. Urcid cited the carvings of 14 dart throwers found in Germany in 1885 and ancient Mesoamerican artwork, including the Mapa de la Ciudad de Mexico by Alonso de Santa Cruz, which depicts a scene of aquatic hunting with darts, to make his case. Urcid said the level of workmanship on each dart thrower signified the social class of the owner and that this tradition goes as far back as 7000 B.C.E. In addition to serving as social identification, Urcid explained the dart thrower’s use in Mesoamerican rituals. Mesoamerican peoples used the darts for human sacrifices to the gods. Urcid supplemented his discussion with a powerpoint presentation and a film depicting various dart throwers and Meso-American Society. Donald Slater, Assistant Collection Manager and Educator at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology, worked in conjunction with the Massachusetts Archaeological Society to organize Urcid’s presentation and visit. Urcid is Slater’s advisor at Brandeis University, where Slater is currently working for his PhD degree. “I thought [the presentation] was outstanding. The argument was presented in such a way that it was interesting and engaging for the whole audience. Listening to Dr. Urcid is always a pleasure,” said Slater. “For me, at 32 years old and having been in school virtually all of my life, I can safely say that he is the best teacher I have ever encountered,” Slater added. The presentation was open both to members of the Northeast Chapter of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and to the Andover community. Apsara Iyer ’12 said, “I was amazed not only by the subject matter, but also by the research process that Dr. Urcid went through to arrive at his answer. Seeing an actual archaeologist like Dr. Urcid was so much deeper than just reading about the same topic in a text book.” “The level of intricacy on some of the dart throwers was astounding and I really enjoyed learning about something I would have otherwise never considered,” she added. Slater said, “I hope [the casual observer] was able to catch a glimpse of the complex and polysemic nature of ancient Mesoamerican graphic communication.” “I hope [those with previous knowledge] enjoyed what is a ground breaking interpretation of the imagery found on ancient dart-throwers linking their use with sacrifice and the pan-Mesoamerican ritual of the voladores,” he added. Brianna Barros ’12 said, “I found the evidence to be very compelling. Archaeology has always fascinated me but Dr. Urcid was able to help me understand this subject far better than I have in the past. He is an expert and explained this complex material at a level that the public could comprehend.” The turnout was slightly below average for an event at the Peabody Museum according to Slater. “It’s too bad, because I had long time members of the [Massachusetts Archaeological Society] last night tell me it was one of the very best lectures they had ever seen.” Prior to the presentation, the Northeast Chapter of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society conducted a chapter meeting. This chapter has been meeting at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology for seventy years and hosts speakers like Urcid periodically.