We all think we know what an arrowhead is. When you stop and think about it, most
people realize that larger points are not suitable for use with a bow and arrow. Usually
these large "arrowheads" are called spear points. More enlightened folks might go on to
divide these  "spear" points into lance points (a hand held thrusting spear) and dart
points. Darts are short, arrow-like spears cast with a throwing stick, also known as an
atl-atl. And of course everyone knows large points were also used as knives. (Right?)
And we must not forget that stone knives were often used as hide scrapers, shaft
straighteners, hole punches, and many other things. Broken knives, and those reduced in
size by repeated sharpening and use, were recycled into.... dart spear, and arrow points!
Although we all think we know what an arrowhead is, less than 10% of the stone tools in
today's collections were used on the end of an arrow.
In fact, the only true arrowheads in North America are the ones collectors call "Bird
Points" For many years collectors assumed from their small size that they were used to
hunt small game. Archaeological investigations have shown that these often-tiny points
were used to kill deer, buffalo, and other large game. They were also used in warfare.
Paleo and Archaic people used large points for their spears and darts. In North America
this period lasted from about 12,000 years ago till about 2,000 years ago.  Although their
points often show knife use, most of their cutting was done with simple yet effective flake
tools. (A simple flake of flint with little modification.) These flakes are as sharp as broken

Stone tools, often called "arrowheads" had a complex life cycle. Each was used for
different tasks as it's size and shape changed though use. So next time some one asks
you "Is that an arrowhead?" you can have perfect confidence in your reply, Yes...and NO!
        Is THAT an Arrowhead?
Bill Breckinridge
A Hell Gap point made of
Rootbeer Edwards flint.
Points this size are often
Small points like this
are true arrowheads,
used with a bow.
Back to Home
Back to Essay