The quiver and set of arrows above is from the McWhorter Collection at Washington State University. It belonged to the Nez Perce warrior Pahka Pahtahank (Five Frogs), who fell in battle in 1877. Ten arrows in total were in the quiver: five with metal tips, and five with plain wooden tips – or, more likely, unhafted (probably prepared for a side-hafting method). The wooden five are illustrated below. What I find interesting about this quiver is that no two of the five metal-tipped arrows are the same. Archaeologists are very prone to a simple “projectile point sociology” whereby the styles of (usually, stone) projectile points are used as proxies for archaeological cultures, or ethnic groups, or as temporal markers: ‘The side-notch people”; “The corner notch phase”.
It is therefore a little sobering when we see ethnographic instances of an apparently cavalier attitude towards stylistic consistency. Sometimes, (at least rarely) being a little sober is a useful mindset. Did the different arrowheads make no difference to accuracy, or to penetration, or even to their definition as “suitable arrows”? What are the archaeological implications of Five Frogs’ diverse arrows? In a classic paper, Polly Wiessner (1983) noted several mechanisms for a similar Kalahari case, including hunters exchanging arrows with each other as a sign of respect and affection. Closer to home, Glen MacKay, in his excellent UVIC M.A. thesis, suggested diverse projectile points in a short occupation site in The Yukon was a technological mediation of kinship unease:
Was the ‘arbitrary’ technical choice of hafting techniques a subtle way for young men living matrilocally to express their discontent with this institution, a means of communicating a desire to return to the people with whom they learned to make spear points and hunt? Several contextual details fiom the KdVo-5 hunting stand support this proposition…..
Emotion in archaeological interpretation! Stamp it out.
Wiessner, Polly 1983. Style and Social Information in Kalahari San Projectile Points. American Antiquity, Vol. 48, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 253-276
MacKay, Glen R. 2004. The Nii’ii hunting stand site : understanding technological practice as social practice in subarctic prehistory. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Victoria. Download.