A Weapon from the Dreamtime
The throwstick, or kylie, is an ancient yet scientifically advanced hunting multi-tool which when thrown at a target, maintains a straight and flat flight trajectory across great, open distances. It is capable of taking small and mid sized game at ranges out past at least 80 meters / 87 yards or more. The throwstick hunter doesn't have to worry about trajectory as he would with all other hunting weapons. With the kylie, he just throws directly at the target, whether it be at long range or short range, and the kylie glides straight toward it. Flight distances out to at least 150 meters / 164 yards have been achieved by some full sized ancient throwsticks as well as their full sized modern day equivalents, which we are making here at Throwsticks.com. The average Aboriginal kylie is much larger and heavier than a boomerang, generally weighing between about 300-500 grams / 10-17 ounces, with extremes outside this range being possible as well. The kylie brings down game through the delivery of a tremendous, blunt impact along its thin edges and is capable of breaking bone.
The history of the throwstick is an ancient and obscure one, extending back before written languages into the dreamtime of human history. When our blood was young, and we were surrounded by wilderness on all sides, the throwstick was the hunting weapon of choice to many of our ancient ancestors. A thoughtful examination of ancient artifacts, extensive experimental archaeology and raw scientific research are all needed to gain a true understanding of this obscure topic.
A Global Phenomenon
Throwsticks have been found at archaeological sites on five continents, but the early use of throwsticks in one form or another was probably universal. Even a basic, hardwood, tree branch is more effective at taking small game than a rock. Because of the wide swath a throwstick cuts through the air as it flies, the odds of a hit are increased just like the advantage of a shotgun over a rifle. It wouldn't take long for early humans to realize that by thinning down the stick they would achieve better results and longer ranges.
Hardwood is a perishable material, so finding a very ancient throwstick is rare. Yet remarkably a large collection were found in the tomb of the Egyptian King Tutankhamun, where they were preserved in pristine condition. A weapon fit for generations of kings, large paintings from multiple ancient Egyptian tombs depict these ancient throwsticks being used to hunt waterfowl. These discoveries give new meaning to the concept of a duck dynasty.
In India and the Americas, throwsticks were known to take small deer by breaking the legs. The Hopi Indians of the South Western United States used throwsticks very effectively, but they were also used in other regions of North America by numerous tribes. Africa and Indonesia are two other notable places where throwsticks were used fairly widely.
Most famously, aerodynamically advanced throwsticks were used as a hunting tool fairly extensively throughout Australia by the Aboriginal peoples. In each region of Australia, different traditions, designs and carving techniques were used, resulting in a tremendous variety of very functional, beautiful, and fine designs. The region of origin for a throwstick can be pinpointed by experts just by examining the throwstick itself. Some Aboriginal throwsticks were hand carved into pieces of breathtaking beauty and complexity, and others carried carvings and paintings that told stories. The knowledge of kylie making and tuning developed and passed down in Aboriginal cultures was truly brilliant.
The Desert Wing
Although used throughout Australia and the world in many different locations and terrain, the throwstick has always had its fullest potential and value realized in the heat of the desert. In the Australian outback where vast, flat, open spaces restrict the cover needed for close range stalking of large game, a long range weapon was a necessity for the hunter. Thus, in the hot central desert of Australia, the Warlpiri and the Arrernte, among other nearby tribes, developed their style of throwstick, which they called "karli" or "alye," to its height of aerodynamic efficiency and long range performance. Over ages of development in this challenging environment, the central desert throwstick was honed into a level of aerodynamic perfection that has became legendary. The desert hunter would carry his throwsticks in pairs and use them for numerous tasks besides hunting. The central desert throwstick was of surpassing quality as a survival tool and it became a commodity to the surrounding tribes. It was traded far off across great distances.
In another desert environment, up above the equator, throwsticks were used by the Hopi Indians of Arizona and S. California to take rabbits at ranges out to 50+ meters, even striking their quarry on the run. They found the throwstick to be a more effective tool for this than the bow. In the desert, throwsticks could even take a rabbit on a miss by bouncing off the ground or skimming into the target. In a single night, a desert hunter could come home bringing several rabbits in one hand, with his trusty throwstick in the other. The Hopi considered the throwstick to be the weapon of the gods and many Hopi throwsticks were truly beautiful, vaguely resembling some of their central desert Australian cousins.
All Aboriginal throwsticks were made from the extremely dense and tough hardwood trees found on the Australian continent. A prominent choice was desert mulga (Acacia nuvera). Yet no matter what wood was selected, the grain of the wood had to go with the bend of the stick so that the stick would not split and break during use. Therefore, the throwstick maker would select a curved or bent portion of a limb or root to utilize to make the throwstick. Throwsticks were carved using stone tools, with animal teeth being used to carve the fine patterns on the surfaces. They were commonly finished with goanna lizard oil, which formed an amazingly beautiful penetrating finish and high sheen, also preventing the throwstick from warping as it dried out with age. Sometimes they would finish throwsticks with ochre which formed a richer red color on the surface of the throwstick, and could perhaps be more easily located in the field. When European settlers brought axes, rasps and other steel tools, the Aboriginal peoples began to use those for manufacturing as well. With or without steel tools, the hours of work needed to create a well tuned throwstick made each one a unique and valuable piece of bushcraft gear for the hunter. Throwsticks came to obtain ceremonial significance among the tribes, and become a central part of the Aboriginal cultures. Used in combination with the spear thrower, which is a penetrating short to mid ranged weapon, the Aboriginal peoples never felt the need to replace the throwstick as their long ranged weapon of choice. One weapon penetrated flesh and the other broke bones.
The End of the Flight
While the throwstick is an excellent hunting tool, it is a poor weapon for modern warfare, surpassed only marginally by the spear thrower. When the Aboriginal peoples with the advanced flight technology of their throwsticks encountered the imperially supplied Europeans with the advanced explosives technology of their firearms, eventually a bloody conflict took place. This eventually led to the tragic loss of many lives, the dissolution of the ancient Aboriginal cultures and ways of life, and the loss of much of the ancient bushcraft knowledge which had been passed down through the generations. Advanced knowledge of kylie making and tuning was largely lost in the process. It's worth noting that when the Europeans first contacted the indigeneous Australians, they did not themselves have the depth of knowledge of flight technology that the indigeneous peoples had. Yet the outback of Australia is extremely deep and remote, and fresh contact with central desert Aboriginal peoples continued into the mid 20th century when sometimes the first contact would be via a helicopter (which ironically was an invention which was originally inspired by the throwsticks and boomerangs of the Aboriginal peoples themselves.)
The loss of the ancient Aboriginal cultures is a sad and tragic part of history which has occurred in nearly all the indigenous cultures around the world at one time or another, with only a very few indigenous peoples now remaining untouched in the world. It is clear to those who have reverently studied the artifacts left behind by any of these cultures that they had a profound, pragmatic genius. Whether the sling braiding of Peru or the kylie carving in Australia, "primitive" cultures were far more advanced in specialized technology than we often realize they were. If the Aboriginal cultures never developed other technology to the advanced level exhibited in their highly refined flying wings, both kylies and boomerangs, it was probably because they really didn't need anything else to maintain the balance they had long maintained as stewards of their environment. It is a balance which modern man often longs to return to and perhaps he must if he is to remain on this planet at all.
For more information about the present day battle for tribal people's human rights, please look into Survival International, of which Throwsticks.com is a proud sponsor. Survival is the global movement for tribal people's rights. Survival helps them defend their lives, protect their lands and determine their own futures.
The ancient advanced skill and knowledge of how to make and tune throwsticks was passed down through the ages by the indigenous Australians from generation to generation, yet still today modern physicists theorize about how these primitive weapons operated. Early explorers to Australia were awestruck by the awesome range of the straight flying, wooden sabers of the tribal peoples, and they recorded their accounts of what they witnessed.
Throwstick making and tuning is a complex process which takes a lot of skill and patience to master in both understanding and craftsmanship. To start with the basics, first, a well made throwstick must be flattened and thinned down so that it is more
aerodynamic and capable of producing some lift and thus extending its range by flattening its trajectory. Second, it must also be bent somewhere in the middle. The reason for this bend is that a straight limbed stick that is flattened would plane out and tumble in the air when thrown into a spin. But a bent stick is stabilized by its trailing and leading parts as it spins. A bent stick could have an airfoil cut into it which would reduce drag and create lift, while simultaneously maintaining stability.
But a problem immediately presents itself to the would-be throwstick maker: for the goal of a well made throwstick is to fly straight and level for an extended distance, yet the natural tendency of a horizontally thrown, spinning, bent airfoil is actually to rise up into the sky and simultaneously roll over and curve its flight to the outside. This tendency is actually what is being capitalized on to make a boomerang return to its thrower. In the case of the throwstick, this natural rise and layover tendency must be overcome or the stick will never fly accurately. Thus, the bent limb has created almost as many problems for the throwstick maker as it has solved. We will delve into this in more detail later on.
To complicate things further, the Aboriginal craftsmen were working with natural, hardwood elbows and stone tools.... Every tree branch was unique and required different tuning adjustments for it to perform well. Learning to make kylies using stable, modern materials and tools is highly difficult at best. What the Aboriginal craftsmen created from scratch with only stone tools is truly amazing. They exhibited great skill with their primitive tools and shaped their sticks into finely tuned, long range hunting missiles. Their perfecting of this art form can only be explained by the profound, observational intelligence of their cultures, and a great dependency placed on their unique tool. For these ancient craftsmen, making throwsticks was simply a way of living.
Long Range Flight Technology
Flight has always captured mankind's imagination, and he has achieved amazing feats. Yet it is something first harnessed in hand in the throwstick, which is mankind's first true flying wing. As the first man made flying object, one might think it would be the most simple, yet it actually ranks as one of the most abstract and complex of all wings ever developed. The throwstick is not symmetrical since one side is angled away from the direction of travel, and the other angled towards it. It's not balanced to stay level since the center of mass is not even on the body of the throwstick itself. It has no true front or back since it is moving forward while spinning and must remain stable and functional in all directions. It must maintain a constant altitude, being only powered in flight by the inertia of its own mass, while its airspeed is constantly being lost to drag.
The throwstick also lacks the surrounding support systems which are the hallmarks of modern winged flight. The symmetrical and balanced wings of an airplane, including propeller wings such as a helicopter rotor, have numerous control mechanisms which give the pilot precise and intelligent in-flight control abilities. No one wing stands alone, but each wing is supported in the flight system by multiple other wings, each one being positioned at ideal locations on the airplane or helicopter to provide stability and control. All of these wings are only required to provide lift in one basic direction from front to back, and they are balanced in the center of the object they are meant to lift. Then this whole system is powered by one or more engines, which maintains continuous airspeed for the wings to produce a constant and optimal amount of lift.
As the throwstick moves forward while rapidly rotating, it experiences unequal airspeed over its surfaces. The outside wing tip (which is rotating into the direction of travel) experiences significantly faster airflow and thus potential lift pressure over its surfaces than the inside wing tip (which is rotating against the direction of travel). This airspeed differential imbalances the lift force on the stick significantly, moving the center of lift towards the outside wing tip and well away from the inside wing tip. Imagine a flight attempt by a one-winged airplane.... To complicate things further, as mentioned earlier, the center of mass for the throwstick, which is the point it is revolving around as it rotates, is not even on the body of the stick itself. The throwstick's center of mass floats out in space off the inside curve of the stick. The difference in location between the ever shifting center of lift and the disconnected center of mass, produces cyclically shifting torque forces that the stick must somehow process into a state of dynamic equilibrium.
Going On Autopilot
In spite of all the challenges mentioned above, the throwstick is actually capable of doing things that no other wing can do. Despite lacking an engine, adjustable flight controls, cockpit instrumentation, and a pilot, the throwstick's wing is designed to deliver a stable, straight and level hovering flight path across great distances, where airspeed is not a constant. It truly is an autopiloted "smart wing" which is programmed to translate the energy given to it in its initial launch into a long ranged, level, and straight flight path, even as its airspeed is gradually lost to drag. All other hand thrown flying objects such as frisbees and flying rings naturally rise and fall in their flights as their airspeed is lost to drag.
The curved wing of both throwsticks and traditional boomerangs offer more unique flight control surfaces than any other hand thrown flying objects do. A frisbee is a symmetrical disc with every part of the disc being similar to some other part, but every part of a kylie's wing is a unique position on the instrument which is completely incomparable to any other part. This allows for the throwstick to be programmed as a complex, spinning, coded object, just like a compact disc. Different approaches to the atmosphere can be coded into the wing which may be incomprehensible to the eye but readable to the air that flows over its surfaces, just as the coding on a CD can only be read by the laser in a computer drive. The coding of a throwstick's wing is something which utilizes the imbalances created by its shape and asymmetry in order to actually balance out evenly, not just against gravity, but also against drag as well. But first it must spin....
Harness the Whirlwind
Spinning objects have a magic all of their own, both to the eyes and to the mind. Whether the spinning top, the ancient shepherd's sling, the yoyo, or even a well thrown football, the spin gives stability and grace to something which without it would not function as desired. When a spinning object is made to fly, the magic of flight and the magic of spin are joined together into one incredible marriage. The throwstick owes its remarkable flight behavior to its spinning attitude. Just like a compact disc must be spun in order to read its code, so the kylie is the same.
When thrown from one end, a stick will spin naturally, as its center of mass is in a different location from the pivot/anchor point it was thrown from. It is this gyroscopic effect created by the intertia of the revolving mass of the stick which gives the throwstick both gyroscopic stability and a torque translation mechanism known at "gyroscopic precession."
"Centrifugal force," which is the outward seeking force of a spinning mass, is actually an apparent effect, not a real force. The real force at work is described in Isaac Newton's first law of motion. Objects in motion want to continue on their same path and speed until acted upon to do otherwise. This can be felt when driving in a vehicle on a curved road. Each time the driver turns the steering wheel, the mass of the vehicle, including the passengers, continues to seek to remain on the same path that they were just traveling on before the steering wheel was turned. The result is the feeling that one is being pulled to the outside of the car, while in reality one is actually just being pulled away from the direction of previous travel. This force is so strong that it allows thin, droopy helicopter blades to become straight and taut when they are spun up, and to thus lift the entire weight of a helicopter and its cargo. Gyroscopic intertia gives tremendous flight stability to the kylie as well. The mass of the kylie is powerfully experiencing the same thing as the passengers in the car, for the curved path of the road is the same as the spinning path of the wing tips.
Not only does the gyroscopic intertia acting on the throwstick help to stabilize it, but it also allows for the curious phenomenon known as gyroscopic precession to occur. Gyroscopic precession can be explained as follows: A torque force applied to a freely balanced, spinning mass acts immediately to alter the plane of rotation of that mass by deflecting the spinning mass into a new direction so that after 90 degrees of rotation has occurred from the origin point of the torque, the deflection of the spinning mass is then fully manifested. Until that 90 degree rotation point is reached, the stabilizing inertia of the mass of the system, in combination with its free balance, make it slippery to any torque applied to it. The spinning mass takes the energy from the torque and carries it into a new direction than the torque would have taken it if it were acting alone on the mass. All that a torque force can do to a free and spinning mass is to deflect it into a new plane of rotation on a 90 degree delay. The 90 degree delay is simply the farthest point away from the origin of the applied torque force that the spinning system has the chance to actually manifest before the mass must turn back again on itself as it continues to spin.
"The Kylie Effect"
"The kylie effect" is a term I have coined to describe the flight path of a well tuned Aboriginal kylie. It operates as follows: The working of gyroscopic precession in a kylie allows the torque created by the differential between the center of mass and the cyclically shifting center of lift to actually be translated smoothly through the system in order to auto adjust the attitude and lift of the stick progressively in flight. As the throwstick gradually slows down due to drag, it simultaneously auto adjusts its angle of attack to a more pitched (nose up position). The nose up flight attitude produces more lift than a nose down attitude, and thus as it progressively manifests itself during the throwsticks's flight path, it is able to compensate for the airspeed and lift which are lost to drag. As lift is lost to drag, it is simultaneously regained by the (torque induced and gyroscopic precession translated) changing attitude of the throwstick. On a well tuned throwstick, lift increases at the same rate that it is lost to drag, and the result is a gravity defying long range hovering missile.
Kangaroo Turbo Power
Advanced kylie making and tuning is a vast subject and it surely took the Aboriginal craftsmen generations of study to perfect throwsticks to the level of efficiency, quality, and beauty that they eventually achieved. It was perhaps this lack of total development among other cultures around the world which eventually led to the throwstick being replaced by other weapons and largely lost to history. But in Australia, the technology reached such a height of development that for the nomadic Aboriginal way of life, any other long range hunting weapon would have been a step backwards. Nothing is or was so rugged, dependable, multi-functional and portable as the kylie. The Aboriginal peoples went for quality over quantity. They could survive without almost all of the modern items we consider essential.
The quality of Aboriginal, long range flight technology was such that it has long utilized advanced concepts still being investigated in modern aeronautical engineering for use in airplanes and helicopters. Their achievements are truly remarkable. One example of this is that in regions of Australia the Aboriginal craftsmen would flute or carve the airfoils of their throwsticks in fine details with decorative patterns carved with the teeth of kangaroo and other animals. These carvings not only enhanced the beauty of their work and told stories, but they also acted as airfoil turbulators which helped improve the performance of the throwsticks in many cases. This was an ancient and laborious practice, but it was mankind's first invention of the airfoil turbulator, ages before the Wright brothers were even born. Turbulators are used on modern wings to increase stability. Turbulators work by stirring up the boundary layer of air next to the wing's surface, which makes it flow in a more controlled and streamlined path around the wing. Ongoing research continues to be conducted by aeronautical engineers on this complex subject which was first discovered by the ancient craftmen of Australia. You can find turbulators on the ridges of a frisbee and the high efficiency wings of a sail plane, but perhaps the most familiar place to see a turbulator is the dimples on a golf ball, where they funcation as a form drag reduction mechanism.
Scraping the Surface
The above about the science of the kylie, has just been a brief overview. Among other basic subjects, we did not even touch on how wings produce lift. Throwstick tuning is not just about adjusting the rate of pitch the stick produces as an isolated mechanism, but also the overall magnitude of lift, inertia and drag generated by the mechanism as well. Adjusting any single factor adjusts all the others at the same time, making the kylie like a rubik's cube. Separating out each mechanism for discussion is just a way of conceptualizing kylies but is not true to reality. To complicate the balancing act further, the cyclically shifting average center of lift of the throwstick must also be kept from moving ahead of or behind the center of mass, in which case the throwstick would roll off to one side or to the other in flight instead of flying straight forward. Keeping that one aspect of a throwstick in balance while adjusting all of its other features is an incredible challenge. The mechanism of a throwstick's balance is a continually moving system which experiences multiple magnitudes of force at every angle of its orientation to its flight path and every part of its structure. Everything inter-relates and balance must be achieved while maintaining a stable and ergonomic system which adapts well to human biomechanics.
In a throwstick, truly everything affects everything, and yet ironically there are dozens of effective approaches to making a good throwstick with innumerable ineffective ones. Many different and yet effective airfoils, shapes, sizes and styles have been produced by the ancient Australian craftsmen, as well as other peoples around the world. Of course boomerangs operate from many of the same principles as well, just taking them in an easier and more natural direction. The extreme challenge of kylie making is in riding the edge of what's possible. Kylie tuning is a very intentional activity, as it is not the natural tendency of any stick to fly in a straight line. It is a case of mind over matter! The irony of the bent flying wing is that despite all of its imbalances, indeed because of them, it offers an amazing, adjustable, and fully automated flight control mechanism to those few who know how to master it. No other flying object offers such a dynamic.
An Ancient Weapon in a Modern World
Long since the original invention of mankind's first flying wing, we have continued to master flight further by joining wings together into powered systems which themselves contain additional wings. The spinning wings contained within the J58 jet engine powered the SR-71 Blackbird, which is itself shaped like one elongated super wing, to speeds over 2100mph. Mankind has reached incredible heights of power with our mastery and celebration of the wing. Yet although the ancient throwstick's basic, primal, and powerful curved shape are stil being used in countless corporate logos, sadly the weapon itself has vanished into obscurity and even legend..., until now....
Our aim here at Throwsticks.com is to bring back the power and majesty of mankind's first flying wing to the modern age. We've conducted years of intensely focused research and thousands of field experiments in order to uncover the secrets of this advanced yet ancient flying weapon. The result is that we are now hand crafting high performance throwsticks in our own shop out of tough modern materials and sending them hovering out across great distances on our test range. Each stick is precisely tuned and this is truly a rare hand crafted product. What we are doing is unique, so please give us your support, not just through purchasing, but through sharing with others.
Throwsticks offer a fresh way to look at our incredible past. They are a symbolic token and realization that no matter how far mankind moves into the future, he never truly leaves his deepest and most distant roots. Cutting edge scientific research sometimes just uncovers what our distant ancestors already knew long ago. Throwsticks remind us that as we look forward to the future with hope, we should also look back to the past with respect. That's the only right way to live in the middle.