Projectile point

In archaeological terms, a projectile point is an object that was hafted to weapon that was capable of being thrown or projected, such as a spear, dart, or arrow, or perhaps used as a knife. They are thus different from weapons presumed to have been kept in the hand, such as axes and maces, and the stone mace or axe-heads often attached to them.

Stone tools, including projectile points, can survive for long periods, were often lost or discarded, and are relatively plentiful, especially at archaeological sites, providing useful clues to the human past, including prehistoric trade. A distinctive form of point, identified though lithic analysis of the way it was made, is often a key diagnostic factor in identifying an archaeological industry or culture. Scientific techniques exist to track the specific kinds of rock or minerals that used to make stone tools in various regions back to their original sources.

As well as stone, projectile points were also made of worked bone, antler or ivory; all of these are less common in the Americas. In regions where metallurgy emerged, projectile points were eventually made from copper, bronze, or iron, though the change was by no means immediate. In North America, some late prehistoric points were fashioned from copper that was mined in the Lake Superior region and elsewhere.

Standard projectile point terminology used in describing Native American projectile points: a - point or tip, b-edge, c- blade or face, d - step, e - tang, f - base, g - notch, h - barb, i - shoulder.[1]

History in North America

A large variety of prehistoric arrowheads, dart points, and spear points have been discovered. Flint, obsidian, quartz and many other rocks and minerals were commonly used to make points in North America. The oldest projectile points found in North America were long thought to date from about 13,000 years ago, during the Paleo-Indian period, however recent evidence suggests that North American projectile points may date to as old as 15,500 years.[2] Some of the more famous Paleo-Indian types include Clovis, Folsom and Dalton points.[3]


Projectile points fall into two general types: dart/spear points, and arrow points. Larger points were used to tip spears and atlatl darts. Arrow points are smaller and lighter than dart points, and were used to tip arrows. The question of how to distinguish an arrow point from a point used on a larger projectile is non-trivial. According to some investigators, the best indication is the width of the hafting area, which is thought to correlate to the width of the shaft.[4] An alternative approach is to distinguish arrow points by their necessarily smaller size (weight, length, thickness).[5]

Projectile points come in an amazing variety of shapes and styles, which vary according to chronological periods, cultural identities, and intended functions.

Typological studies of projectile points have become more elaborate through the years. For instance, Gregory Perino began his categorical study of projectile point typology in the late 1950s. Collaborating with Robert Bell, he published a set of four volumes defining the known point types of that time. Perino followed this several years later with a three-volume study of "Selected Preforms, Points and Knives of the North American Indians".[6] Another recent set of typological studies of North American projectile points has been produced by Noel Justice.[7][8][9][10]

North American types


Pre-historic projectile point from Lapa do Santo

Native American Projectile Points York County Pennsylvania 2014

Prehistoric Native American projectile points from York County, Pennsylvania.

Na arrowheads

A collection of stone projectile points from North America.


A knapped flint arrowhead.

Hohokam Arrowhead Sahuarita Arizona 2014

Prehistoric stone arrowhead in situ.

Lapa do Santo - Ponta de projétil (Lst 5534)

Prehistoric stone (Lapa do Lago, Brazil).

Lorida, FL Thonotosassa type

Thonotosassa type, Lorida, Florida.

Little Gasparilla Island

Little Gasparilla Island beach find.

Heads of spear

Ancient spear heads.

See also


  1. ^ Adapted from Ritchie, 1989
  2. ^ "Clovis People Weren't First in Americas, Texas Spear Points Suggest". The New York Times. 24 March 2011. Archived from the original on 19 March 2015.
  3. ^ Authentic Artefacts Collectors Association Archived 2008-11-20 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Wyckoff 1964
  5. ^ Thomas 1981
  6. ^ Fraser 2005
  7. ^ Justice 1987
  8. ^ Justice 2001
  9. ^ Justice 2002a
  10. ^ Justice 2002b


  • Fraser, Ray (2005). "A tribute to Greg Perino (1914-2005)". Central States Archaeological Societies Journal. 52 (3): 144. ISSN 0008-9559.
  • Justice, Noel D (1987). Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States: A Modern Survey and Reference. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Justice, Noel D (2001). Field guide to projectile points of the Midwest. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Justice, Noel D (2002a). Stone Age spear and arrow points of California and the Great Basin. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Justice, Noel D (2002b). Stone Age spear and arrow points of the Southwestern United States. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
  • Oklahoma River Basin Survey Project (1963–1976). General survey report. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Research Institute.
  • Ritchie, William A (1989). A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points, New York State Museum Bulletin Number 384. Albany, New York: The University of the State of New York, The State Education Department.
  • Thomas, David Hurst (1981). "How to Classify the Projectile Points from Monitor Valley, Nevada". Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology. 3: 7–43.
  • Whittaker, John C (1994). Flintknapping: making and understanding stone tools. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-79083-X.
  • Wyckoff, Don G (1964). The cultural sequence of the Packard Site, Mayes County. Oklahoma. Archaeological Site Report.
Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.

Carrier Mills Archaeological District

The Carrier Mills Archaeological District is a group of prehistoric archaeological sites located along the Saline River south of Carrier Mills, Illinois. The sites were inhabited over the period from 2500 B.C. to 700 A.D. The oldest three sites date from the Late Archaic period, which encompassed the first 1500 years of occupation at the district; these sites include two small campsites and a larger base camp. Several sites were inhabited during the Early Woodland period, which lasted until 500 B.C.; these sites are distinguished by fragments of pottery, which was developed during this period. The Early Woodland period sites are likely to have been a part of the Crab Orchard culture, a local subtype of the Hopewell tradition. A number of sites date from the Middle Woodland Period, which spanned from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D.; these sites appear to have adopted the technology, but not the traditions, of the Hopewell culture. A single projectile point from the Late Woodland period has also been recovered from the site.The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places on August 25, 1978.

Cascade point

A Cascade point is a projectile point associated with the Cascade phase, an ancient culture of Native Americans that settled in the Pacific Northwest that existed from 9000 or 10000 BC until about 5500 BC.

The Cascade (Bipointed) point is typically narrow, lanceolate leaf shaped, with either a pointed or rounded base. There are also two other variants, one with a shallow concave base and the other with a sharply contracting basal margin..Cascade points are generally regarded as poor temporal markers because they are found in early, middle, and even late Holocene contexts. It is unclear whether this broad timespan is a function of prolonged use of the point form, later groups recycling discarded artifacts, or a combination of both. The spatial and temporal distribution of foliate points in the northern Great Basin and present new data derived from work at a stratified rockshelter in Oregon's Warner Valley have been reviewed. There, we have uncovered foliate projectile points that meet the original definition and more recent refinements of the Cascade point type associated with a late early Holocene and middle Holocene occupation. We present technological and source provenance data for the points and the associated lithic assemblage and reconstruct how prehistoric foragers used the rockshelter.A projectile found lodged in the hip of Kennewick Man was leaf-shaped, long, broad and had serrated edges.

Clovis point

Clovis points are the characteristically-fluted projectile points associated with the New World Clovis culture. They are present in dense concentrations across much of North America; in South America, they are largely restricted to the north of that continent. Clovis points date to the Early Paleoindian period roughly 13,500 to 12,800 calendar years ago. Clovis fluted points are named after the city of Clovis, New Mexico, where examples were first found in 1929 by Ridgely Whiteman.A typical Clovis point is a medium to large lanceolate point. Sides are parallel to convex, and exhibit careful pressure flaking along the blade edge. The broadest area is near the midsection or toward the base. The base is distinctly concave with a characteristic flute or channel flake removed from one or, more commonly, both surfaces of the blade. The lower edges of the blade and base are ground to dull edges for hafting. Clovis points also tend to be thicker than the typically thin later-stage Folsom points. with length ranging from 4 to 20 centimetres (1.6 to 7.9 in) and width from 2.5 to 5 centimetres (0.98 to 1.97 in). Whether the points were knife blades or spear points is an open question.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Dalton Tradition

The Dalton Tradition is a Late Paleo-Indian and Early Archaic projectile point tradition. These points appeared in most of Southeast North America around 8500–7900 BC.

"They are distinctive artifacts, having concave bases with "ears" that sometimes flare outward (Fagan 2005)." ' These tools not only served as points but also as saws and knives. They were often changed in form and function because the hunters would sharpen the points over and over and would eventually turn them into knives then chisels or scrapers. A variant on the Dalton point is the Hardaway point of North Carolina.

Eldon-Wall Terrace Site

The Eldon-Wall Terrace Site is an archeological site in Sweetwater County, Wyoming. The site occupies about 600 metres (2,000 ft) of a terrace on Blacks Fork in the Green River Basin. The site includes numerous hearth sites, with stone chips and tools. A projectile point dates the site to the Middle Archaic period. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 13, 1985.

Folsom Site

Folsom Site or Wild Horse Arroyo, designated by the Smithsonian trinomial 29CX1, is a major archaeological site about 8 miles (13 km) west of Folsom, New Mexico. It is the type site for the Folsom tradition, a Paleo-Indian cultural sequence dating to between 9000 BC and 8000 BC. The Folsom Site was excavated in 1926 and found to have been a marsh-side kill site or camp where 23 bison had been killed using distinctive tools, known as Folsom points. This site is significant because it was the first time that artifacts indisputably made by humans were found directly associated with faunal remains from an extinct form of bison from the Late Pleistocene. The information culled from this site was the first of a set of discoveries that would allow archaeologists to revise their estimations for the time of arrival of Native Americans on the North American continent.

Folsom point

Folsom points are a distinct form of knapped stone projectile points associated with the Folsom tradition of North America. The style of tool-making was named after the Folsom Site located in Folsom, New Mexico, where the first sample was found by George McJunkin within the bone structure of a bison in 1908. The Folsom point was identified as a unique style of projectile point in 1926.

Goshen point

The Goshen point is a medium-sized, lanceolate-shaped, Paleo-Indian projectile point with a straight or concave base. It exhibits characteristic fine flaking.The point was named in 1988 by George C. Frison after the discovery of specimens at the Hell Gap complex site in southeastern Wyoming. The projectile is so-named after the nearby Goshen Country.

Greene projectile point

Greene projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States generally in the time interval of 300–800 AD.

Jack's Reef pentagonal projectile point

Jacks Reef Pentagonal is the name for small (1" to 1 ½"), broad projectiles and specialized knives. They were named by William A. Ritchie based on examples recovered from the Point Peninsula Jack's Reef archaeological site in Onondaga County, New York. The projectiles have mostly been dated to within a few hundred years of 900 AD, in the early era of the Owasco culture.The knives are thin, five-sided points with sharp tips. Jack’s Reef Corner Notched and Jack’s Reef Pentagonal are related and contemporary points, with The Corner Notched points rarer than the Pentagonal ones. The hafting areas are usually contracted, with slightly concave or straight bases. The overall outline of the point is typically pentagonal, with straight sides. The blades were in use during the Late Woodland period. The Jack's Reef Pentagonal points also appear in the Brewerton Complex (Middle Archaic) in a much thicker, cruder, and larger form.

A few smaller but crude examples appear in the Point Peninsula 2 Complex (later Middle Woodland). They were also present in the Intrusive Mound Culture graves, especially at the Mound City Hopewell group in Ross County, Ohio. Blade distribution runs from Missouri to the west, southward to Alabama, and eastward to the coast, then northward through New York and back west through Illinois. Examples have also been found in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Jeffers Petroglyphs

The Jeffers Petroglyphs site is an outcrop in southwestern Minnesota with pre-contact Native American petroglyphs. The petroglyphs are pecked into rock of the Red Rock Ridge, a 23-mile (37 km)-long Sioux quartzite outcrop that extends from Watonwan County, Minnesota to Brown County, Minnesota. The exposed surface is approximately 150 by 650 feet (50 by 200 m) and surrounded by virgin prairie. Several old wagon trail ruts traverse the site, one of which is believed to be the old stage coach route from New Ulm, Minnesota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.The exact age of the petroglyphs is not known, but the earliest petroglyphs are estimated to be from 9000 to 7000 years ago (7000 to 5000 BCE). but some atlatl symbols at Jeffers are a close match with similar symbols at Indian Knoll in Kentucky, which have been dated to 3000 BCE during the Late Archaic Period. Another clue to the age comes from the projectile point carvings, which show a projectile point design used by hunters in the Late Archaic Period. Other carvings, such as thunderbirds, dragonflies, turtles, and shamans, are symbolic of later tribes such as the Otoe tribe, Sioux, and Iowa tribe. These are believed to date between 900 CE and 1750 CE. There are over 4000 American Indian images preserved in the bedrock. The bedrock was flattened and smoothed over by glaciers 14000 years ago.

Several archaeologists have hypothesized theories about the purpose of the carvings. Some hypotheses include the practice of hunting magic, performance of sacred ceremonies, or recording historical events in the lives of warriors, shamans, and chiefs. The exact age and purpose of the carvings is only speculation, not established fact. Meanwhile, some Native Americans view the Jeffers site as sacred ground and a very spiritual place, not merely a site to be studied and speculated upon. Jerry Flute, a Dakota elder, was quoted as saying, "To the contemporary Native Americans who reside in and around the state, [Jeffers Petroglyphs] is a very spiritual place. It is a place where Grandmother Earth speaks of the past, present and future."

The Minnesota Historical Society purchased the site from W. R. Jeffers, Jr. in 1966 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. It is maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society and is open to the public between May and September. The site is bracketed by two important tracts of tallgrass prairie: Rock Ridge Prairie Scientific and Natural Area to the northwest and Red Rock Prairie, a preserve of The Nature Conservancy, to the east. Here federally threatened prairie bush clover is found, as well as big bluestem, Indian grass, gray-headed coneflower, Maximilian's sunflower, cordgrass and coreopsis. The upland sandpiper, regal fritillary and Poweshiek skipper can be found on these prairies.The visitor center is open from May through September and features hands-on exhibits and a multimedia presentation about the site. Daily natural and cultural history programs are offered about such topics as archaeology, how Native Americans made and used the atlatl, a travois and cordage, and prairie wildlife and plants.

Lamoka projectile point

Lamoka projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States, generally in the time interval of 3500-2500 B.C. They predate the invention of the bow and arrow, and are therefore not true "arrowheads", but rather atlatl dart points. They derive their name from the specimens found at the Lamoka site in Schuyler County, New York.

Levanna projectile point

Levanna projectile points are stone projectile points manufactured by Native Americans what is now the northeastern United States generally in the time interval of 700-1350 AD. They are true "arrowheads" rather than atlatl dart points, and they derive their name from the specimens found at the Levanna site in Cayuga County, New York.

Old Cordilleran Culture

The Old Cordilleran Culture, also known as the Cascade phase, is an ancient culture of Native Americans that settled in the Pacific Northwestern region of North America that existed from 9000 or 10000 BC until about 5500 BC.

The Cascade phase may be even older, depending on when human beings first arrived in America. They originated in Alaska, and migrated to occupy a wide area as far as Idaho and the plateaus of California, but they are generally not considered to be a maritime society. However, their spear points, or points resembling theirs, have been found as far south as Mexico and South America. This was the typical artifact of these people — a simple, bi-facial, leaf-shaped projectile point which average about 6 cm (2.4 in) in length. These tools were used as spears or darts, or also knives, indicating the importance of hunting, although they also fished and gathered for subsistence. However, the main dependence was on land hunting, mostly of deer, bison, and other large mammals.The culture possibly spoke a Macro-Penutian language (a hypothetical macrofamily which may include Penutian, Uto-Aztecan, and some other language families). This culture also created the oldest attested examples of art in the Pacific Northwest.

Transverse arrowhead

A transverse arrowhead is a type of trapezoidal stone projectile point most commonly associated with the European Mesolithic and Neolithic periods although it is also found in other regions and periods.Unlike a conventional arrowhead which tapers to a point, the transverse arrowhead usually widens to a cutting edge and was hafted onto an arrow shaft at its narrowest point. Other types have parallel sides but in any case transverse arrowheads are always wider than they are long.

Link to a page showing transverse spearheads in use in pre-dynastic Egypt.

Typology (archaeology)

In archaeology a typology is the result of the classification of things according to their physical characteristics. The products of the classification, i.e. the classes, are also called types. Most archaeological typologies organize portable artifacts into types, but typologies of larger structures, including buildings, field monuments, fortifications or roads, are equally possible. A typology helps to manage a large mass of archaeological data. According to Doran and Hodson, "this superficially straightforward task has proved one of the most time consuming and contentious aspects of archaeological research".

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