Projectile Points
  • Material – Stone/Mineral
  • Place of Origin – North America
  • Date – Paleoindian – 17th Century
  • Location – Collections, Archaearium
  • Category – Virginia Indian

The Jamestown collection includes artifacts made by Indigenous Peoples that span thousands of years and highlight the cultural richness and exchange in the region before and during the arrival of the English. One of the most temporally diagnostic artifact types that shows this long history are projectile points, which include spear points, arrowheads and darts. These points could also have additional functions including as knives, saws, scrapers, or drills.

Of the approximately 1,200 projectile points excavated by Jamestown Rediscovery archaeologists to date, over 500 have been identified by point type. To determine point type, archaeologists examine physical characteristics including shape or form, manufacturing technique and quality, material, and even wear pattern. There are over 40 different types of points in the Jamestown collection, ranging from Paleoindian (14,000-8,000 BCE) through the 17th century.

However, points can be highly variable even among specific type classifications. Projectile points were made by different people of varying skill level and using higher or lower quality materials. This means that points could appear quite different even if they were intended to be the same. Additionally, point type classifications are somewhat subjective and trickier projectile points may be typed differently depending on the archaeologist identifying them. Factors including use wear, resharpening, breakage, and taphonomic processes such as weathering highly impact the general form of a projectile point, so some degree of imagination is occasionally required in order to assign a type. Because of this, it is not always possible to type a projectile point, as demonstrated by the fact that less than half of Jamestown’s points were able to be identified.

Points were produced using a variety of materials. In the Jamestown collection, local quartzite is the most commonly used material, followed by quartz, which can range in color from milky white to crystal clear. Some of the Jamestown curators’ favorites are made from jasper, a typically caramel-colored cryptocrystalline material that turns into a dark purple color when heat-treated. Jamestown archaeologists have even recovered small triangular points made from English flint, an example of how Virginia Indians adapted new materials brought to their land by the English, and the cultural exchange that was inevitable after 1607.

Archaeologists split the time prior to European contact into periods that reflect large, interconnected cultural changes such as settlement patterning, technological advancements, and subsistence strategies. Despite this, it is crucial to point out that every cultural group is unique and these time periods refer to broad patterns. These time periods may also have varied date ranges in different geographic locations, so the dates used here are reflective of what is generally accepted in Virginia. The following artifact pages highlight these overarching time periods and focus on projectile point types attributed to each period. These pages are not intended to be a guide for identifying projectile points, but to show the variety that have been recovered at Jamestown.

selected artifacts