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story.lead_photo.caption The Missouri Atlatl Association demonstrated spear-throwing and archery. Photo by Olivia Garrett/Fulton Sun

Visitors at Graham Cave State Park had the chance to glimpse into the past Saturday during Archaeology Day 2020.

Stations focused on the Graham family, the cave, spear-throwing and education were spread out in the park, allowing for social distancing. Many visitors of all ages wore masks.

"We're trying to keep it kind of simple," park superintendent Cade Harp said.

During the course of the pandemic, the park has seen some safety measures introduced, from one-way trails to closed bathrooms. Recently, visitor numbers at the cave have been close to typical, Harp said.

In the 19th Century, the Graham family began buying land in Montgomery County. On their property was a large sandstone cave. Over the years, the family would use it as a barn to house livestock and farm equipment.

The first excavations of the cave began in 1949 — inside, archaeologists found Native American artifacts spanning 10,000 years of human history. A stone ring, spear points, blades, scrapers, mortars, clay pottery and arrow heads indicate that the cave was used as a hunting camp and a seasonal shelter.

The site became the first archaeological site to be named a National Historic Landmark in 1961. In 1964, Frances Graham Darnell donated the land around the cave to the Missouri State Park Board.

Today, visitors can hike, camp and picnic in the area. The park has also been the location of several spear-throwing contests. In 2018, it hosted World Atlatl Day.

On Saturday, the Missouri Atlatl Association demonstrated the use of the atlatl, which is an ancient tool used for spear-throwing.

One of the demonstrators was Dawn Wagner, an association member and one of the few people using the atlatl to hunt in the modern day. Wagner and her husband have harvested deer and several rabbits.

Deer season in Missouri starts Tuesday for archery and atlatl — while she might not make it out on opening day, Wagner plans on hunting again this season.

Wagner practiced her throwing, aiming for a target propped up in hay.

Wagner volunteers with the Missouri Department of Conservation to teach spear-throwing with the atlatl.

"I'd love to see more women in the sport," Wagner said.

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