Friday, May 15, 2009

Projectile Points

Projectile points through time (from 10,000 years ago on left to 500 years ago on right).

Projectile Points
Flint projectile points are one of the more common Indian artifacts found on archaeological sites. Such items are easily recognized and usually termed arrowheads. Archaeologists, however, prefer the term "projectile point" as one cannot always tell if the point was used on an atlatl dart, spear point, or arrow point. Projectile points vary a great deal in size, shape, and workmanship, and it is from such characteristics archaeologists are able to suggest the time period when certain types of points were in use. The different styles of projectile points are characteristic of certain time periods and localities, and many sites where these have been found have been dated by radiocarbon methods. Consequently, the style or type of projectile point tends to be representative of a particular time period or cultural grouping.

Although some variations on style may represent that projectile points were used for different purposes, this has not been demonstrated. The idea that points of a certain shape were "war points," "fish arrows," "bird points," etc. is not supported by the archaeological record.

Archaeologists usually classify projectile points into two broad groups: dart points and arrow points. In general, dart points are larger in size and weight than arrow points and were used as tips for darts or spears. Arrow points are smaller in size, weigh less, and were used as tips for various kinds of arrows.

Dart points exhibit enormous variation in form and workmanship. The smaller sized dart points overlap with the larger sized arrow points and commonly one cannot be certain with regard to the classification of a particular point. Most dart points, however, range from about 35 mm to 100 mm in length. Longer specimens, which are common, are usually termed "spearheads" by many writers but many of these are hafted knives or artifacts which served some special cultural function. Dart points, either long or short, tend to have a wide stem or hafting area 10 mm or more in minimum width, for mounting on a heavy wooden shaft or dart foreshaft. Arrowheads, on the other hand, tend to have a stem width less than 10mm, compatible with mounting on an arrow shaft.

Dart points appear earliest in the archaeological record and were used for several thousands of years before the bow and arrow became available. Of course, the use of the atlatl and dart continued after the availability of the bow and arrow, but these were eventually abandoned. In general, dart points are to be associated with the Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland and other early assemblages. Their final usage apparently disappears sometime during the first millennium AD.

Arrow points are small sized and light weight projectile points, usually less than 35mm in length and with a narrow stem or hafting width. They are commonly made from a thin flake in which the flake scar is still evident on one face of the point. These are commonly termed "bird points" among collectors but this is an error as the point size is not to be correlated with the size of the game being hunted. The Plains Villagers, for example, used these small points for hunting the bison and dart points were apparently not used at all for this purpose.

The time of the appearance of the bow and arrow in Oklahoma is not known. Small points first occur in sites along with small dart points, perhaps 2000 years ago, but by AD 1000, arrow points appear to be the popular projectile point everywhere. From archaeological work with old Wichita sites, it appears that flint arrowheads were being replaced by metal points between AD 1750 and 1800.

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