Friday, March 4, 2011

The ABCs of Archaeology

After two years of faithfully blogging every week about artifacts, events and general information about Pennsylvania archaeology that hopefully our readers have found interesting, we at TWIPA are introducing a new series of posts with an alphabetical twist, the ABCs of archaeology. As we continue to cover a wide variety of topics and current happenings in archaeology, interspersed on certain weeks when events are low and creative inspiration lacking, the next letter of the alphabet will be there to keep the ball rolling and carry us through another post.

The letter “A” is obviously starting us off, and it’s kind of a no brainer. “A” is for archaeology, of course. And if you’ve been a longtime reader of TWIPA, we’ll spare you the “Archaeology is . . .” speech. We’ve covered that ground pretty well and are confident everybody is on board. And that frees up “A” to be so many other things, like. . .

AMS dating, Archaic Period, atlatal, A horizon, to rattle off a few, but how could we not include that “A” is for arrowhead. And that happens to be a wonderful opportunity to call attention to the fact that the majority of what many people find surface collecting and call arrowheads, are in actuality spear points, or more generally projectile points. Still other types of bifacial tools commonly referred to as arrowheads likely functioned as knives.

rhyolite "arrowhead" likely used as knife

The bow and arrow, in use by in Pennsylvania the Late Woodland Period, arrives relatively late in the scheme of prehistory around 1000 AD. It is interesting that the bow was first used in Europe at least 12,000 years ago as evidenced from cave paintings. In the Eastern Woodlands, the Levanna and Madison triangular point types are what would have been hafted to the shaft of an arrow. Some have argued that Jacks Reef points are thinner than preceding spear points and also may have been used as arrow points. Seen below is a selection of chert triangle points, followed by a two-tone Jacks Reef point from the study collection at the State Museum.

late Woodland triangle arrow points

Jacks Reef projectile point

And so with that short laundry list of “A”s, we leave this week with one of the more well used cliques in the field; “A” is for assumption (and we all know what happens when you assume) - just as a quick reminder to keep things scientific, and let the data drive your conclusions, not the other way around.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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