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Primitive Arrowheads: 'Bird Points' Weren't Used for Hunting Birds

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April 23, 2013

Primitive Arrowheads: 'Bird Points' Weren't Used for Hunting Birds

By Phil Bourjaily

Usually we deal with guns only, but every once in a while you come across a video that takes a Gun Nut approach to primitive weapons, and this is one of the best. Were bird arrow points for birds or deer? Only one way to find out...

Years ago when I worked at the University of Iowa’s museum of natural history we had a flintknapper come in and do a demonstration. He spent a long time making a complex Clovis spear point. He was knocking long blades off a round piece of chert then finishing them. He wrecked a couple and finally finished one. Then, to show us flintknapping wasn’t as hard as he had just made it look, he knocked out a perfect, tiny “bird point” in about five minutes.

As this video shows, it turns out Native Americans didn’t use bird points for birds after all (and certainly not for goldfinches). The sharp little points were perfectly capable of killing deer-size game at close range when launched from a 40 pound bow. These four test shots were taken at 10 yards on a freshly killed doe. I know a few people hunt successfully with these points today but I didn’t expect the results you see in this video.

Comments (19)

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from Harold wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Phil,

I realized all of this a few years ago. These small points had two main advantages:

First, the smaller cross-section meant less friction and thus more penetration.
Secondly, before horses everything had to be carries on a person's back or possibly a dog. Thus, only a certain amount of rock could be carried and thus these small points maximized the amount of arrowheads that could be made with that amount of rock.

By the way, I understand that for some surgical procedures, obsidian scalples are preferred over stainless steel ones.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steward wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Very interesting. Thanks for that!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from micko77 wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Surprising! I've known that modern broadheads with modern bows will easily shoot through a deer at 40 lb. pull; I've done it a few times. I had no idea the "bird" points would do so. Thanks!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carney wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Well. This begs the question, "What were the normal sized arrow heads for?"

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from JohnR wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

That makes the thought of being shot with an arrow much worse for the early settlers who experienced conflicts with the native Americans. That especially since the point could break off somewhere inside of the body and primitive medicine such that it was.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longhunter wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I actually pulled up the same video last week and I thought that it was facinating. No less of an authority than Howard Hill, who was an amazing tournament archer and hunter claimed that a 40 lb longbow could kill any deer in North America including Moose and Elk. He was an advocate of heavy arrows though to get the most momentum and penetration.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bear31062 wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Carney asks what are normal sized arrowheads used for. Actually these are normal sized arrowheads, these were typically used for most game animals using a bow and ranging in size from a 1/2 inch or smaller to about 2 inches. Arrowheads 2 inches and bigger were typically used for Atl-alts or (long dart) with a thrower or spear points which were used for even larger game such as Bison, Mammoths and other large game animals long extinct. I have been flint knapping for over 20 years and have had great success with an Osage bow and river cane arrows which have been proven to be as lethal as modern steel or metal arrowheads.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I have long suspected these were big game points. I can't imagine the ancients getting many birds with a bow. Some sort of trap would be much better for birds. I've seen indian bows and arrows in museums with the small points.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from keithjoyner wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Guess I'm guilty of being overpowered for my elk hunting, but then Arizona sets limits on the bow power and broadhead size, so I guess I'll just have to go along with the game and fish politicians.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from woodpecker wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I've often wondered, what did they use to make arrowheads if there wasn't any flint around? Did they use bone or parts of sea shells? Is there another kind of stone that they could have used?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gator fan 2017 wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

wow

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carl Huber wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Phil please allow me my dumb question of the month. Is it legal to hunt with a primitive point? I know they are as sharp as the dickens, but fragile.
As a side note. My wifes Grand Father used a glass shard to fashion all his wooden wine making tools. Metal might contaminate the product. There were other superstitions IE no women were allowed near the fermentation process. Only my wife as a small child.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longhunter wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

I have seen arrowheads made out of obsidian, bone and even saw some made out of the bottom of a very, thick, glass jar. Aboriginal tribes in Florida used alligator gar scales for arrowheads.The bone arrows that I have seen were suprisingly sharp and it makes sense since bone knives have been used for quite sometime. Regulations on using primitive heads vary from state to state so you would have to look up the regs from your state DNR.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Woodpecker - Native Americans used whatever they had and they also traded with other groups and sometimes obtained the point making materials that way.
Carl Huber - I think Longhunter is right about point regulations varying from state to state.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Years ago I met a Blackfoot who knapped obsidian points just as his tribe used for centuries to kill bison. The finished points were about as big as his thumbnail. Bison were shot point blank off horseback or, before 1730, after driven over a cliff. The idea was to drive the arrow through both lungs and get the hell away. "Put that through his chest and it's like letting the air out of a balloon" he said.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bear31062 wrote 51 weeks 1 day ago

Birds such as turkeys, prarie chickens, pheasants, etc. if on the ground were shot with an arrow with an arrow head. Birds in flight were also shot with arrows the difference was that the arrows instead of having an arrowhead attached to the shaft had a woven 5 to 8 inch flat like mat woven out of vines. it was big enough so when it hit the bird in flight it usually broke a wing or neck bringing the bitd down. This was a very efficent way of hunting birds. It is hard to describe exactly what this looked like. But with a little reasearch you can see exactly what i am talking about.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenton wrote 50 weeks 6 days ago

Near Newark OH is a place called Flint Ridge that has been called the "Great Indian Quarry of Ohio." Prehistoric people came from many areas to get the fine, colorful flint. You can Google it for more info..

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from chidjm wrote 50 weeks 4 days ago

My uncle grew up in Southern IL, the land of Tecumseh, the great Native American leader. He has a deer vertebrate that he found as a kid (He's pushing 80 now) that has a so called "birds point" stuck in it. He's been showing it off for years telling people that these small heads were used for killing large game.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Iklwa wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Hunting point design is always set by principals of physics.
Completed arrow weight is generally set by the bow’s draw weight. If the arrow is too heavy for the launch speed, it has no penetration at extended range (Believe me when I say those fellas were interested in maximizing range).
A hunting tip with less surface area penetrates better with a low poundage bow that a point with greater surface area.

I personally had never heard the term “bird point” before seeing the video. However, being familiar with the medieval era Bodkin point made me think automatically that a point of these dimensions would be perfect for anti-personnel use.
When the presenter made the comment that blood samples had been taken from the stone and traces of deer and other “big game” blood had been found, I was surprised they reported no traces of human DNA.

Perhaps in the interest of preserving the modern concept that the America Aborigine society was somehow blithely pure and peaceful a small of the truth was conveniently left out.
To believe that all tribal and personal conflicts were solved with the gentle tap of a crook stick defies credulity.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Harold wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Phil,

I realized all of this a few years ago. These small points had two main advantages:

First, the smaller cross-section meant less friction and thus more penetration.
Secondly, before horses everything had to be carries on a person's back or possibly a dog. Thus, only a certain amount of rock could be carried and thus these small points maximized the amount of arrowheads that could be made with that amount of rock.

By the way, I understand that for some surgical procedures, obsidian scalples are preferred over stainless steel ones.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carney wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Well. This begs the question, "What were the normal sized arrow heads for?"

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from bear31062 wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Carney asks what are normal sized arrowheads used for. Actually these are normal sized arrowheads, these were typically used for most game animals using a bow and ranging in size from a 1/2 inch or smaller to about 2 inches. Arrowheads 2 inches and bigger were typically used for Atl-alts or (long dart) with a thrower or spear points which were used for even larger game such as Bison, Mammoths and other large game animals long extinct. I have been flint knapping for over 20 years and have had great success with an Osage bow and river cane arrows which have been proven to be as lethal as modern steel or metal arrowheads.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from chidjm wrote 50 weeks 4 days ago

My uncle grew up in Southern IL, the land of Tecumseh, the great Native American leader. He has a deer vertebrate that he found as a kid (He's pushing 80 now) that has a so called "birds point" stuck in it. He's been showing it off for years telling people that these small heads were used for killing large game.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Steward wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Very interesting. Thanks for that!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from micko77 wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

Surprising! I've known that modern broadheads with modern bows will easily shoot through a deer at 40 lb. pull; I've done it a few times. I had no idea the "bird" points would do so. Thanks!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from JohnR wrote 51 weeks 4 days ago

That makes the thought of being shot with an arrow much worse for the early settlers who experienced conflicts with the native Americans. That especially since the point could break off somewhere inside of the body and primitive medicine such that it was.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longhunter wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I actually pulled up the same video last week and I thought that it was facinating. No less of an authority than Howard Hill, who was an amazing tournament archer and hunter claimed that a 40 lb longbow could kill any deer in North America including Moose and Elk. He was an advocate of heavy arrows though to get the most momentum and penetration.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Del in KS wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I have long suspected these were big game points. I can't imagine the ancients getting many birds with a bow. Some sort of trap would be much better for birds. I've seen indian bows and arrows in museums with the small points.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from keithjoyner wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

Guess I'm guilty of being overpowered for my elk hunting, but then Arizona sets limits on the bow power and broadhead size, so I guess I'll just have to go along with the game and fish politicians.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from woodpecker wrote 51 weeks 3 days ago

I've often wondered, what did they use to make arrowheads if there wasn't any flint around? Did they use bone or parts of sea shells? Is there another kind of stone that they could have used?

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from gator fan 2017 wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

wow

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Carl Huber wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Phil please allow me my dumb question of the month. Is it legal to hunt with a primitive point? I know they are as sharp as the dickens, but fragile.
As a side note. My wifes Grand Father used a glass shard to fashion all his wooden wine making tools. Metal might contaminate the product. There were other superstitions IE no women were allowed near the fermentation process. Only my wife as a small child.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Longhunter wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

I have seen arrowheads made out of obsidian, bone and even saw some made out of the bottom of a very, thick, glass jar. Aboriginal tribes in Florida used alligator gar scales for arrowheads.The bone arrows that I have seen were suprisingly sharp and it makes sense since bone knives have been used for quite sometime. Regulations on using primitive heads vary from state to state so you would have to look up the regs from your state DNR.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from philbourjaily wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Woodpecker - Native Americans used whatever they had and they also traded with other groups and sometimes obtained the point making materials that way.
Carl Huber - I think Longhunter is right about point regulations varying from state to state.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Roderick K. Purcell wrote 51 weeks 2 days ago

Years ago I met a Blackfoot who knapped obsidian points just as his tribe used for centuries to kill bison. The finished points were about as big as his thumbnail. Bison were shot point blank off horseback or, before 1730, after driven over a cliff. The idea was to drive the arrow through both lungs and get the hell away. "Put that through his chest and it's like letting the air out of a balloon" he said.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from bear31062 wrote 51 weeks 1 day ago

Birds such as turkeys, prarie chickens, pheasants, etc. if on the ground were shot with an arrow with an arrow head. Birds in flight were also shot with arrows the difference was that the arrows instead of having an arrowhead attached to the shaft had a woven 5 to 8 inch flat like mat woven out of vines. it was big enough so when it hit the bird in flight it usually broke a wing or neck bringing the bitd down. This was a very efficent way of hunting birds. It is hard to describe exactly what this looked like. But with a little reasearch you can see exactly what i am talking about.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Kenton wrote 50 weeks 6 days ago

Near Newark OH is a place called Flint Ridge that has been called the "Great Indian Quarry of Ohio." Prehistoric people came from many areas to get the fine, colorful flint. You can Google it for more info..

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Iklwa wrote 43 weeks 6 days ago

Hunting point design is always set by principals of physics.
Completed arrow weight is generally set by the bow’s draw weight. If the arrow is too heavy for the launch speed, it has no penetration at extended range (Believe me when I say those fellas were interested in maximizing range).
A hunting tip with less surface area penetrates better with a low poundage bow that a point with greater surface area.

I personally had never heard the term “bird point” before seeing the video. However, being familiar with the medieval era Bodkin point made me think automatically that a point of these dimensions would be perfect for anti-personnel use.
When the presenter made the comment that blood samples had been taken from the stone and traces of deer and other “big game” blood had been found, I was surprised they reported no traces of human DNA.

Perhaps in the interest of preserving the modern concept that the America Aborigine society was somehow blithely pure and peaceful a small of the truth was conveniently left out.
To believe that all tribal and personal conflicts were solved with the gentle tap of a crook stick defies credulity.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

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