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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/187

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DR. HANSEN'S "THROWING STICK.".

DR. HANSEN'S "THROWING STICK."
By JOHN MURDOCH.

THE report that reached us last February to the effect that Dr. Nansen's adventurous expedition had actually succeeded in reaching the pole, naturally set everybody to reviewing the reasons which led him to adopt his peculiar plan. Among the facts which led him to believe that there was a steady current flowing westward across the pole, there has been frequent mention of an Alaskan throwing stick picked up on the southwest coast of Greenland.

Many have doubtless wished to know what a "throwing stick" is, and how it could be thought to give such conclusive evidence of a drift from western America to Greenland. As I had a hand in collecting and working out the evidence that made this little piece of wood so valuable, I propose to try and answer these two questions.

In the first place, a "throwing stick," "throwing board," or "spear thrower," as it is sometimes called, is a contrivance for casting a javelin or harpoon, which is employed by various savage races, such as the Australians, some South American tribes, and especially by the Eskimos, among whom its use is almost universal. Roughly speaking, it is a narrow grooved board a foot or so long, with one end cut into a handle and the other provided with a stud or spur for the butt of the spear to rest against. It is used thus: Grasping the handle as he would a sword, the man fits the shaft of the spear into the groove, with the butt resting against the stud, steadying the spear with the finger. Then, extending his arm and bending back his hand till the spear lies horizontal, he aims at the mark and propels the weapon by a quick forward jerk of the stick. In this way I have seen the Eskimo boys casting their forked javelins at wounded waterfowl.

There is a very large number of Eskimo throwing sticks in the National Museum at Washington, collected from all the different branches of the race. These have been very carefully studied by Prof. Otis T. Mason, one of the curators of the museum, and he has found that these implements differ greatly from each other in their details, while all are made on the same general plan. For instance, one kind will have a plain handle, while another will have projecting pegs, or holes or sockets, to give a firmer hold for the fingers, and so on.

Moreover, he has shown that each division of the Eskimo race has its own pattern of throwing stick, so that, with the help of his illustrations, one. can tell, on seeing a throwing stick, whether