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Chert arrowhead, Late Neolithic (Rhodezien) (3300-2400 BC), current France Fleche Cartailhac MHNT PRE 2009.0.232.2 simple.jpg
Chert arrowhead, Late Neolithic (Rhodézien) (3300–2400 BC), current France

An arrowhead or point is the usually sharpened and hardened tip of an arrow, which contributes a majority of the projectile mass and is responsible for impacting and penetrating a target, as well as to fulfill some special purposes such as signaling.


The earliest arrowheads were made of stone and of organic materials; as human civilizations progressed, other alloy materials were used. Arrowheads are important archaeological artifacts; they are a subclass of projectile points. Modern enthusiasts still "produce over one million brand-new spear and arrow points per year". [1]

A craftman who manufactures arrowheads is called an arrowsmith. [2]


Arrowheads made of bone and antler found in Nydam Mose (3rd-5th century) Nydam bone arrowheads.jpg
Arrowheads made of bone and antler found in Nydam Mose (3rd–5th century)
Ancient Greek bronze leaf-shaped, trefoil and triangular arrowheads GREEK. Black Sea Region. AE Arrowhead Proto-Money.jpg
Ancient Greek bronze leaf-shaped, trefoil and triangular arrowheads
Some arrowheads made of quartz Arrow-heads.JPG
Some arrowheads made of quartz

In the Stone Age, people used sharpened bone, flintknapped stones, flakes, and chips and bits of rock as weapons and tools. Such items remained in use throughout human civilization, with new materials used as time passed. As archaeological artifacts such objects are classed as projectile points, without specifying whether they were projected by a bow or by some other means such as throwing since the specific means of projection (the bow, the arrow shaft, the spear shaft, etc.) is found too seldom in direct association with any given point and the word "arrow" would imply a certainty about these points which simply does not exist. [3]

Such artifacts can be found all over the world in various locations. Those that have survived are usually made of stone, primarily consisting of flint, obsidian, or chert. In many excavations, bone, wooden, and metal arrowheads have also been found.

Stone projectile points dating back 64,000 years were excavated from layers of ancient sediment in Sibudu Cave, South Africa. Examinations found traces of blood and bone residues, and glue made from a plant-based resin that was used to fasten them on to a wooden shaft. This indicated "cognitively demanding behavior" required to manufacture glue. [4]

These hafted points might have been launched from bows. While "most attributes such as micro-residue distribution patterns and micro-wear will develop similarly on points used to tip spears, darts or arrows" and "explicit tests for distinctions between thrown spears and projected arrows have not yet been conducted" the researchers find "contextual support" for the use of these points on arrows: a broad range of animals was hunted, with an emphasis on taxa that prefer closed forested niches, including fast moving, terrestrial and arboreal animals. This is an argument for the use of traps, perhaps including snares. If snares were used, the use of cords and knots which would also have been adequate for the production of bows is implied. The employment of snares also demonstrates a practical understanding of the latent energy stored in bent branches, the main principle of bow construction. Cords and knots are implied by use-wear facets on perforated shell beads around 72,000 years old from Blombos. Archeologists in Louisiana have discovered that early Native Americans used Alligator gar scales as arrow heads.

"Hunting with a bow and arrow requires intricate multi-staged planning, material collection and tool preparation and implies a range of innovative social and communication skills." [5]


Arrowheads are attached to arrow shafts to be shot from a bow; similar types of projectile points may be attached to a spear and "thrown" by means of an atlatl (spear thrower).

The arrowhead or projectile point is the primary functional part of the arrow, and plays the largest role in determining its purpose. Some arrows may simply use a sharpened tip of the solid shaft, but it is far more common for separate arrowheads to be made, usually from metal, horn, rock, or some other hard material.

Arrowheads may be attached to the shaft with a cap, a socket tang, or inserted into a split in the shaft and held by a process called hafting. [6] Points attached with caps are simply slid snugly over the end of the shaft, or may be held on with hot glue. In medieval Europe, arrowheads were adhered with hide glue. Split-shaft construction involves splitting the arrow shaft lengthwise, inserting the arrowhead, and securing it using ferrule, sinew, rope, or wire. [7]

Modern arrowheads used for hunting come in a variety of classes and styles. Many traditionalist archers choose heads made of modern high carbon steel that closely resemble traditional stone heads (see Variants). Other classes of broadheads referred to as "mechanical" and "hybrid" are gaining popularity. Often, these heads rely on force created by passing through an animal to expand or open.


Japanese arrowheads of several shapes and functions Fleches-japonaises-p1000615.jpg
Japanese arrowheads of several shapes and functions
Modern replicas of various medieval European arrowheads Crecy-en-Ponthieu 24-09-2008 12-11-33.JPG
Modern replicas of various medieval European arrowheads
A modern broadhead tip BroadheadTip.jpg
A modern broadhead tip

Arrowheads are usually separated by function:

The mechanical head flies better because it is more streamlined, but has less penetration as it uses some of the kinetic energy in the arrow to deploy its blades. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Archery</span> Using a bow to shoot arrows

Archery is the sport, practice, or skill of using a bow to shoot arrows. The word comes from the Latin arcus, meaning bow. Historically, archery has been used for hunting and combat. In modern times, it is mainly a competitive sport and recreational activity. A person who practices archery is typically called an archer, bowman, or toxophilite.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">English longbow</span> Type of ranged weapon

The English longbow was a powerful medieval type of bow, about 6 ft (1.8 m) long. While it is debated whether it originated in England or in Wales from the Welsh bow, by the 14th century the longbow was being used by both the English and the Welsh as a weapon of war and for hunting. English use of longbows was effective against the French during the Hundred Years' War, particularly at the start of the war in the battles of Sluys (1340), Crécy (1346), and Poitiers (1356), and perhaps most famously at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). However they were less successful after this, with longbowmen having their lines broken at the Battle of Verneuil (1424) although the English won a decisive victory, and being completely routed at the Battle of Patay (1429) when they were charged by the French mounted men-at-arms before they had prepared the terrain and finished defensive arrangements. The Battle of Pontvallain (1370) had also previously shown longbowmen were not particularly effective when not given the time to set up defensive positions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Microlith</span> Stone tool

A microlith is a small stone tool usually made of flint or chert and typically a centimetre or so in length and half a centimetre wide. They were made by humans from around 35,000 to 3,000 years ago, across Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. The microliths were used in spear points and arrowheads.

A spear is a pole weapon consisting of a shaft, usually of wood, with a pointed head. The head may be simply the sharpened end of the shaft itself, as is the case with fire hardened spears, or it may be made of a more durable material fastened to the shaft, such as bone, flint, obsidian, iron, steel, or bronze. The most common design for hunting or combat spears since ancient times has incorporated a metal spearhead shaped like a triangle, lozenge, or leaf. The heads of fishing spears usually feature barbs or serrated edges.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arrow</span> Shafted projectile that is shot with a bow

An arrow is a fin-stabilized projectile launched by a bow. A typical arrow usually consists of a long, stiff, straight shaft with a weighty arrowhead attached to the front end, multiple fin-like stabilizers called fletchings mounted near the rear, and a slot at the rear end called a nock for engaging the bowstring. A container or bag carrying additional arrows for convenient reloading is called a quiver.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Armour-piercing ammunition</span> Ammunition type designed to penetrate armour

Armour-piercing ammunition (AP) is a type of projectile designed to penetrate either body armour or vehicle armour.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Projectile point</span> Primitive weapon component

In North American archaeological terminology, a projectile point is an object that was hafted to a weapon that was capable of being thrown or projected, such as a javelin, dart, or arrow. They are thus different from weapons presumed to have been kept in the hand, such as knives, spears, axes, hammers, and maces.

The pilum was a javelin commonly used by the Roman army in ancient times. It was generally about 2 metres long overall, consisting of an iron shank about 7 mm in diameter and 60 cm (24 in) long with a pyramidal head, attached to a wooden shaft by either a socket or a flat tang.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spear-thrower</span> Tool to give more leverage when throwing a spear-like projectile

A spear-thrower, spear-throwing lever or atlatl is a tool that uses leverage to achieve greater velocity in dart or javelin-throwing, and includes a bearing surface which allows the user to store energy during the throw.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bow and arrow</span> Pre-gunpowder ranged weapon system

The bow and arrow is a ranged weapon system consisting of an elastic launching device (bow) and long-shafted projectiles (arrows). Humans used bows and arrows for hunting and aggression long before recorded history, and the practice was common to many prehistoric cultures. They were important weapons of war from ancient history until the early modern period, where they were rendered increasingly obsolete by the development of the more powerful and accurate firearms. Today, bows and arrows are mostly used for hunting and sports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Viking Age arms and armour</span> Military technology of the Vikings from the late 8th to the mid-11th century

Knowledge about military technology of the Viking Age is based on relatively sparse archaeological finds, pictorial representation, and to some extent on the accounts in the Norse sagas and laws recorded in the 14th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bodkin point</span> Type of arrowhead

A bodkin point is a type of arrowhead. In its simplest form it is an uncomplicated squared metal spike, and was used extensively during the Middle Ages. The typical bodkin was a square-section arrowhead, generally up to 11.5 cm (4.5 in) long and 1 cm (0.39 in) thick at its widest point, tapered down behind this initial "punch" shape. Bodkin arrows complemented traditional broadhead arrows, as the bodkin arrows had the force to pierce armor while the wide cutting surface of the broadhead caused more serious wounds and tissue damage.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dart (missile)</span> Hurled weapon with a sharp point

Darts are airborne ranged weapons. They are designed to fly such that a sharp, often weighted point will strike first. They can be distinguished from javelins by the presence of fletching and a shaft that is shorter and/or more flexible. Darts can be propelled by hand or with the aid of a hand-held implement. They can be distinguished from arrows because they are not used with a bow.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roman military personal equipment</span> Ancient Roman soldiers equipment

Roman military personal equipment was produced in small numbers to established patterns, and used in an established manner. These standard patterns and uses were called the res militaris or disciplina. Its regular practice during the Roman Republic and Roman Empire led to military excellence and victory. The equipment gave the Romans a very distinct advantage over their barbarian enemies, especially so in the case of armour. This does not mean that every Roman soldier had better equipment than the richer men among his opponents. According to Edward Luttwak, Roman equipment was not of a better quality than that used by the majority of Rome's adversaries. Other historians and writers have stated that the Roman army's need for large quantities of "mass produced" equipment after the Marian Reforms and subsequent civil wars led to a decline in the quality of Roman equipment compared to the earlier Republican era:

The production of these kinds of helmets of Italic tradition decreased in quality because of the demands of equipping huge armies, especially during civil wars...The bad quality of these helmets is recorded by the sources describing how sometimes they were covered by wicker protections, like those of Pompeius' soldiers during the siege of Dyrrachium in 48 BC, which were seriously damaged by the missiles of Caesar's slingers and archers.

It would appear that armour quality suffered at times when mass production methods were being used to meet the increased demand ..." and "...the reduced size curiasses would also have been quicker and cheaper to produce, which may have been a deciding factor at times of financial crisis, or where large bodies of men were required to be mobilized at short notice, possibly reflected in the poor-quality, mass produced iron helmets of Imperial Italic type C, as found, for example, in the River Po at Cremona, associated with the Civil Wars of AD 69 AD; Russel-Robinson, 1975, 67

Up until then, the quality of helmets had been fairly consistent and the bowls well decorated and finished. However, after the Marian Reforms, with their resultant influx of the poorest citizens into the army, there must inevitably have been a massive demand for cheaper equipment, a situation which can only have been exacerbated by the Civil Wars...

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military of ancient Egypt</span> Overview of the military of ancient Egypt

Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of eastern North Africa, concentrated along the northern reaches of the Nile River in Egypt. The civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh, and it developed over the next three millennia. Its history occurred in a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as intermediate periods. Ancient Egypt reached its pinnacle during the New Kingdom, after which it entered a period of slow decline. Egypt was conquered by a succession of foreign powers in the late period, and the rule of the pharaohs officially ended in 31 BC, when the early Roman Empire conquered Egypt and made it a province. Although the Egyptian military forces in the Old and Middle kingdoms were well maintained, the new form that emerged in the New Kingdom showed the state becoming more organized to serve its needs.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hafting</span> Process by which an artifact is attached to a haft

Hafting is a process by which an artifact, often bone, stone, or metal is attached to a haft. This makes the artifact more useful by allowing it to be shot (arrow), thrown by hand (spear), or used with more effective leverage (axe). When constructed properly, hafting can tremendously improve a weapon's damage and range. It is estimated that hafted weapons were most common during the Upper Paleolithic and Middle Paleolithic. It was one of the first tools where hominins took separate elements and united them into a single tool. The development of hafting is considered by archaeologists to have been a significant milestone. It was not only an improvement in the technology at the time; it also showed the progression of the human mind toward a world of complex tool-making.

This is a list of archery terms, including both the equipment and the practice. A brief description for each word or phrase is also included.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sibudu Cave</span> Rock shelter with earliest examples of modern human technology in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Sibudu Cave is a rock shelter in a sandstone cliff in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is an important Middle Stone Age site occupied, with some gaps, from 77000 years ago to 38000 years ago.

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  1. Kelley, Kevin (2010). What Technology Wants. New York: Viking. p. 55. ISBN   978-0-670-02215-1.
  2. Paterson Encyclopaedia of Archery p. 20
  3. "Glossary M - P". Archived from the original on 11 March 2010. Retrieved 2013-01-28.
  4. "BBC News - Oldest evidence of arrows found". BBC. 2010-08-26. Archived from the original on 26 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-26.
  5. Marlize Lombard and Laurel Phillipson. (2010). Antiquity Vol 84:325, 2010 pp 635–648 Indications of bow and stone-tipped arrow use 64 000 years ago in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
  6. 1 2 [ bare URL PDF ]
  7. Parker, Glenn (1992). "Steel Points". The Traditional Bowyer's Bible - Volume Two. Guilford: The Lyons Press. ISBN   1-58574-086-1.
  8. 1 2 "Armour-piercing arrowheads". Royal Armouries. Archived from the original on 2016-03-24. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  9. Pope, Saxton. Hunting with the Bow and Arrow. To test a steel bodkin pointed arrow such as was used at the battle of Cressy, I borrowed a shirt of chain armor from the Museum, a beautiful specimen made in Damascus in the 15th Century. It weighed twenty-five pounds and was in perfect condition. One of the attendants in the Museum offered to put it on and allow me to shoot at him. Fortunately, I declined his proffered services and put it on a wooden box, padded with burlap to represent clothing. Indoors at a distance of seven yards [6 m], I discharged an arrow at it with such force that sparks flew from the links of steel as from a forge. The bodkin point and shaft went through the thickest portion of the back, penetrated an inch of wood and bulged out the opposite side of the armor shirt. The attendant turned a pale green. An arrow of this type can be shot about two hundred yards [180 m], and would be deadly up to the full limit of its flight.
  10. Quidort, Darryl. "Handmade Massey-Style Broadheads." Traditional Bowhunter. ISSN:1076-6537. February/March 2014. Page 50.
  11. "Mechanical vs. Fixed Broadheads". Archived from the original on 2009-09-25. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  12. Delrue, Parsival. 2007. "Trilobate Arrowheads at Ed-Dur (U.A.E, Emirate of Umm Al-Qaiwain)". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. 18, no. 2: 239-250.