Many people assume any stone tool that is pointed and triangular in shape is an ancient arrowhead, and most of the time this assumption is erroneous. Archaeologists commonly accept that Native Americans arrived in the Western Hemisphere around 15,000-20,000 years ago. However, the bow and arrow is a relatively recent arrival in the Americas, having only been around for roughly 1,100 years. Most stone projectile points (their correct term) are either spears, atlatl dart points or hafted knives. True arrowheads are quite small and often incorrectly called "bird points." Point size has little to do with prey size.
Things You'll Need
- Recommended reading: "Flintknapping : Making and Understanding Stone Tools;" John C. Whittaker; 1994.
- Good guide book: "Field Guide to Projectile Points of the Midwest;" Noel D. Justice and Suzanne K. Kudlaty; 2001.
Identify Attributes of Stone Arrowheads
Identify the material type. Most points are made from various types of knappable stone. This is stone that is "glassy" in appearance, crypto-crystalline in structure and fractures like glass. Although commonly called "flint," the point is typically made from chert, chalcedony, obsidian or quartzite.
Identify its shape. Stone points are pointed and basically triangular in shape. This seems obvious, but often points are reworked into other types of tools (i.e., scrapers and drills) and lack this shape.
Identify how it was made. Check to see if pieces (called flakes) were chipped off of just one face of the artifact (unifacial) or both faces (bifacial). Stone points and arrowheads are most commonly bifacial.
Measure the artifact. True arrowheads are small, less than 2 inches in length. Again, projectile point size has nothing to do with prey size. Small points are not "bird points" and large points are not "bison points." Size is a product of the technology.
Identify the hafting area. This will give you a clue as to how the point was hafted to an arrow shaft. Stone arrowheads usually have three base shapes: un-notched, corner-notched and side-notched. Corner-notching will originate from the corner of the base of the point, and side-notching will originate near the base, but from the side.
Try to determine its age. Again, arrowheads are quite small and will date after circa AD 900. Corner-notched arrowheads are usually older than other types and date circa AD 900-1100. Side-notched arrowheads date circa A.D. 1000-1350, and un-notched points date circa AD 1350-1750. With the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century, Native Americans steadily began to replace stone points with metal substitutes, and eventually with firearms. By the early 1800s, stone-point manufacture was very uncommon.
Tips & Warnings
- Ancient arrowheads do not have to be made from stone. Sometimes points are made from other material, such as bone and antler.
- Every state has a historic preservation office, and most states have a state archaeologist. Contact them to get more information about artifacts in your area.
- Most states have an archaeological society. These are great organizations to learn more about artifacts and engage in local archaeology.
- It is illegal, and a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act, to collect any artifacts from state and federal lands. It is also usually illegal to collect from local (city and county) public lands.
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