Before the arrival of the English at Jamestown, Virginia Indians had no glass. The closest substance they had to it was clear quartz, also known as rock crystal. The Indians could find it in the Virginia Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountain areas. A heavy “Chrystal” altar “between Three and Four foot Cube,” was said to stand in the Virginia Indian’s principle ritual site located about one day’s journey from Jamestown. Colonist Robert Beverley described the altar stone in 1705 based on information given to him by the Indians. It was said to be “so clear, that the Grain of a Man’s Skin might be seen through it.”
Captain John Smith recorded that some of the Indian arrows were “headed with splinters of christall or some sharpe stone.” Colonist and minister Alexander Whitaker also described a “Christall rocke” used by the Indians to “head many of their arrows.” That mineral source, according to Whitaker, was located “twelve miles beyond the falls of the James River,” or twelve miles beyond today’s city of Richmond.
Twelve clear quartz triangular projectile points have been found by the Jamestown Rediscovery Project. Most of these points (called raputtak in Algonquian) are intact, appearing as if they had never been fired from a bow. Hundreds of other points have been found, made from material nearby the island and in many cases broken as if from the impact a flying arrow would experience. We know from the historical documents that sometimes Indians gifted bows and arrows to the English. In one recorded encounter, Captain Smith was given a whole “Quiver of Arrowes . . . as a present.” Could our intact clear quartz projectile points represent such gifts? A study of the stone points found in the fort between 1994 and 1998 seems to suggest so. The analysis determined that most of the points (79%) were made of stones locally available to Jamestown and that the points made of non-local stones were almost five times more likely to be intact than the local stone points. This could indicate the harder to acquire non-local points were not intended as ordinary projectiles but found their way into colonial contexts as gift arrows.