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Roger Weller, geology instructor
by Kellie Wagner
Arrowheads: A guide to Creating
Arrowheads, also known as projectile points, are an interesting part of our regional history that can be used as a tool to glimpse a tiny part of the Native American’s daily lives. Ancient arrowheads were made using a method called knapping or pressure flaking, from a variety of materials such as flint and obsidian using pointed tools such as an antler. Native Americans created arrowheads using stone up until about 1000 to 3200 years ago when the Europeans introduced metal.
Southwest Native Americans, defined as, “members of any of the Native American peoples inhabiting the southwestern United States” used a variety of projectile points as tools for basic survival needs. “Some scholars also include the peoples of northwestern Mexico in this culture area. More than 20 percent of Native Americans in the United States live in this region, principally in the present-day states of Arizona and New Mexico.” Some of the tribes that lived in the Southwest are Hopi, Navajo, Zuni, Chiricahua Apache, Maricopa, Pima and Yavapai. There are many more and they employed a robust trade with one another. (Encyclopedia Britannica)
“Arrows were the missiles shot
from bows which were made from a straight thin shaft and usually feathered and
barbed. An arrowhead was the blade or point that was made of bone or
stone, and later metal that was fixed to an arrow. Arrowheads may be
attached to the shaft of the arrow with a cap, a socketed tang, or inserted into
a split in the shaft and held by a process called hafting which meant fitting
the arrow shaft to the arrowheads. The size and shape of the arrowheads were
determined by the purpose of the weapon and the skill of the weapon maker.”
Arrowheads needed to be
created using specific stones that would fracture in a manner that would create
a sharp edge. They used stone or minerals that were native to their
environment but trade was so common that arrowheads are found in areas that are
from a different geological area.
a volcanic material, is often found in areas far from any modern or ancient volcanic activity. However, it fractures so well and has an extraordinarily sharp edge that it is not uncommon to find arrowheads made out of it all over the country. Obsidian leaves a conchoidal or circular shape on the area it was fractured and its glass like makeup allows its edge to be naturally razor sharp. These properties make it a perfect material to use for arrowheads.
fractures and leaves a razor sharp edge as well. “Flint is a chemical sedimentary rock made of cryptocrystalline (very fine-grained) quartz. It is distinguished from chert by its shinier surface and its better ability to be chipped into sharp implements such as arrowheads.” (Weller)
“is a chemical sedimentary rock made of cryptocrystalline (very fine-grained) quartz, SiO2. It has a surface that is duller than flint, with which it is closely related.” (Weller)
“is a chemical sedimentary rock made of cryptocrystalline (very fine-grained) quartz. It is distinguished from chert and jasper by its strong coloring which comes from iron compounds, making it red, orange, yellow, green, or brown. Red is the most common color associated with jasper.” (Weller)
“is a gem variety of cryptocrystalline quartz; usually banded.” (Weller)
Another great trait of the minerals used to create arrowheads is their ability to be reworked. If they are chipped during use they are then knapped again and used again. Native Americans wasted nothing and would have reused a material if possible. Especially if it was a material they did not have easy access too. A theory exists that states that the smaller “bird points”, tiny arrowheads meant to kill small prey, are not actually for hunting birds but rather used to drive poison deep into a larger animal. A smaller arrowhead causes less resistance as it enters the animal and thus is a great delivery vessel for toxins that can bring down a larger animal or perhaps one that is harder to get a “kill” shot with your first shot.
The variety of the size and shape of arrowheads far exceeds the variety of materials used to create them. The styles of arrowheads can be sorted by region, purpose, and time period.
Time period: 8000-2300 B.P.
N.W. Chihuahua, Mex
Time Period: 8000-2300 B.P.
Southern AZ, SW NM, SE CA
Time Period: 8000-2300 B.P.
SW States and N. Mex
Pueblo Side Notched
Time Period: 1600-700 B.P.
S. CA, AZ, NM, N. Mex
Knife blades, spear points and
atlatl points are among the other projectile points that were used for skinning,
sawing and throwing. The Native Americans were well armed with the skills
they needed to create the tools for a wide variety of tasks.
As seen, creating an arrowhead may be a dwindling skill but it is not and was not a significant drain on time or resources. That being said there is a level of “know how” to successfully knap an arrowhead.
Arrowheads and other sharp edged tools are pieces of history that you can hold in your hand. It was created from necessity and used by people of old. We know very little about these tools and those that used them so the little we glean can create a great collection and show honor to our neighbors of old.
1. “Native Indian Weapons and Tools.” Bows and Arrows ***, www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-indian-weapons-tools/bows-and-arrows.htm.
2. Pauls, Elizabeth Prine, and Laura Thompson. “Southwest Indian.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 23 Mar. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/Southwest-Indian.
3. “ Geology Home Page-a geological library Cochise College
Roger Weller, geology instructor.” Cochise College, skywalker.cochise.edu/wellerr/aawellerweb.htm
All the projectile point were found on private land and were discovered not created. The only point created was the one in the demo vid