Where in the hell am I?

November 18, 2008

What’s the point?

Filed under: analysis, archaeology, archeology, East Texas, projectile points — John @ 5:07 am

So I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks at work analyzing projectile points from the Siren site in Williamson County. These are what are commonly referred to as arrowheads. However, while all arrowheads are projectile points, not all projectile points are arrowheads. Until around 600AD in Texas (give or take, and the numbers have been moving older) projectiles were darts, thrown with an atlatl. Then, the bow and arrow technology was introduced and adopted (some say rapidly, some say gradually).
On a tangent, not all projectile points are really projectile points either, as usewear studies have shown that many points were either also used as cutting tool, or only used as cutting tools.
Back to the point (sadly, pun intended), my analysis is partly quantitative (a number of standard dimension metrics) and partly qualitative. This includes things like trying to determine if the point has been thermally altered, and if so, was it intentional. That one is pretty easy, and the most common chert from the site takes on a very distinctive color and lustre and a waxy feel when it’s been intentionally heat treated. Other elements include reworking (basically, rejuvenating a worn or broken tool), beveling (which is often a sign of reworking), location of notches, and type of shoulder. In some cases, like basal margin, options include “shallow concave” and “deep concave”, with no set definition of the distinction. Since I’m still a relatively junior lithic analyst, this can be hard and at times a bit frustrating. I’m proud that my bosses think I’m capable of this level of work, but I’m still afraid sometimes that I’m doing things wrong. On the other hand, I’ve already been told that there’s not exactly one right way and that 5 different people will look at the same point as many as 5 different ways.
Right now, I’ve been working on the dart points (although I did change one to an arrow point). I’m about to get into the “Untyped” category, which means I get a crack at trying to identify them as well as analyze them. Nothing like questioning your superiors! Then, the arrowpoints. There’s somewhere between 250-300 total points, and I’ve analyzed 190-odd so far. After that, the 500+ bifaces. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to spend some time in the field again!



  1. Oh, god, I love the word “atlatl.”

    Comment by Joolie — November 19, 2008 @ 6:03 am

  2. […] It’s not uninteresting, but the challenge is trying to gather the disparate analyses, forms, tables, and raw data that have accumulated over 6 years. The project director for the excavation, while still involved in a limited capacity, moved on to an academic job several years ago. Many of the other excavators and crew chiefs, and some of the earlier authors and analysts, have also moved on. So we have cold data and loss of knowledge sources, one of the big problems in archaeology. The kicker is that this wasn’t really my company’s fault, but a result of budget cutbacks that led to the client putting this on the shelf for several years. Looking back, I was working on the lithic analysis almost three years ago. […]

    Pingback by Cold cases « Where in the hell am I? — July 8, 2011 @ 5:20 pm

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