Unless you are an archery master, it could be easy to assume that there is only one type of arrowhead. But when we look back over history, we see that these tools have evolved over thousands of years. Each one is unique to its purpose and designed in a specific way.
While you may only use one type of arrow with your modern bow, it can be interesting to learn about and understand how the archers that came before you used their weapons and what their arrowheads looked like.
In this article, we are going to be looking at the various types of arrowheads that have been used throughout the ages and gaining a deeper understanding of how and why they would have been used.
Why Are There Different Types Of Arrowheads?
When most people, a layman, in particular, are asked to describe an arrowhead, they would most likely talk about a pointed, triangular-shaped object. This would not be an inaccurate description but it is by no means the only one.
Throughout history, hundreds of different types of arrowheads have been fashioned. Archery has been a form of hunting and weaponry for thousands of years. Regardless of the civilizations that we look at, archery has a place in it.
Even though in modern times, we use a variety of arrowheads that have been engineered for precision and accuracy, there are still people today who use a more traditional type of arrowhead. Just think about indigenous people in the rainforest and on the plains of Africa.
If many of these traditional arrowheads are still used today, they must have been pretty effective.
But why are there different types of arrowheads?
When you consider that arrowheads have been used for more than 200,000 years it is not difficult to understand that this technology would have changed over time. What’s more, people around the world may have made their arrows slightly differently depending on how they were going to be used.
If you look at the arrows used in medieval England compared to those that were used by Native Americans, there is a marked difference in the design. Some of the medieval arrows featured a forked head, which is rather unique yet specific use.
It is believed that these arrows could have been used aboard ships for cutting sails and rigging. Of course, arrowheads used by a Native American hunter would not have needed this type of design.
Furthermore, the location that the arrowheads were made could have a bearing on the material from which they were made. In some places, certain materials might have been more readily available than others.
What Materials Are Used For Arrowheads?
As we have mentioned, there are many different types of materials used in the creation of arrowheads. The location and intended use would have been the things that had the greatest impact on how arrowheads were crafted.
- Animal bones were often used as arrowheads. This is because bone is extremely strong, particularly from certain parts of the body such as the femur.
- Chert is a type of sedimentary rock that is made up of quartz and therefore very resilient. In some examples of chert, there can be traces of iron, which will add to the robustness of the rock.
- Flint is a type of chert that was widely used in arrowheads throughout history. This is a limestone-based type of rock and is much rougher in texture.
- Obsidian is a volcanic glass that is dark in color and has often been used to create arrowheads.
- It may be surprising to learn that there are arrowheads that have been fashioned from wood. However, not just any wood can be used and you will often find that hardwoods are favored. Most commonly oak and bamboo are used.
There are many different types of arrowheads, which we will look at later, but these types all fall into one of three categories. The category of arrowhead that you will use will depend on the type of archery that you will be taking part in.
Throughout history, there have been three main uses for archery; hunting, war, and target practice. As such, arrowheads will fall into categories in line with these uses.
Broadhead arrowheads are designed for hunting large game. If they are used in any other type of archery, they will not have a very good effect, other than damaging your target.
The reason for this is that these arrowheads are designed to be sharp and penetrate deep into a large animal when hunting.
They usually cause a lot of bleeding and are extremely difficult to dislodge. If you are using these, you must be prepared to lose arrows since archers often find that their arrows will break before the broadhead can be pulled from a target.
While a blunt arrowhead will not penetrate the target, the design is such that it will cause a lot of damage just from the trauma of the hit. These types of arrowheads are particularly useful when hunting small game as they will kill or at the very least paralyse the target upon impact.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that blunt arrowheads are safe for use as toys but this is not the case. The tips of these arrows are often very hard and will cause a lot of damage. The only exception is the safety arrowheads which are used in historical reenactments and are made with a soft material that will not cause injury.
When you begin practicing archery, you will need a simple arrowhead that will go into the target easily as well as coming out easily. Target arrowheads have been designed with this in mind.
However, this does not mean that they are not extremely efficient and designed to kill. These sharp arrowheads can do some serious damage and should be respected.
Different Types Of Arrowheads
Considering how long arrows have been used as a weapon and the different approaches to their creation around the world, there are many varieties of arrowheads. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.
There are four main types of lanceolate arrowheads.
- Triangle arrowheads have a wide base that narrows to a point at the tip.
- Lanceolate arrowheads have a pointed tip that becomes wider but then narrows down again towards the base.
- Auriculate arrowheads come in a fish shape and have auricles which are more commonly known as ears angled downwards.
- A leaf arrowhead features a more rounded base but still has a triangular design with a pointed tip that widens and then narrows towards the base.
When asked to think about a time when arrowheads were commonly used, a lot of us would turn our thoughts to the Medieval times and this is not by chance. Arrows were widely used as a weapon of choice during this period for both war and hunting.
Of course, the reason for using the arrowheads would have determined their shape and design.
In the main, these arrows fall into one of two categories; barbed arrowheads and non-barbed arrowheads.
Barbed arrowheads were typically used for hunting thanks to their ability to lodge into the target. There were several designs in this category including the swallowtail broadhead which was used when hunting large game.
Additionally, there was the curved broadhead which would have been used when hunting medium or large game. This was much more effective as it could hit deeper than other types of arrowheads.
Non-barbed arrowheads were often used in war and once again, there were several different types. For example, the war bodkin was the most commonly used type of war arrowhead and could easily penetrate through even the toughest chain link armor.
The needle bodkin was a long, thin type of arrowhead which was also in the non-barbed category and was commonly used in battles. This arrowhead design was based on that of the Viking leaf design and was extremely effective in penetrating armor, hence why it was one of the most popular.
While there are many different types of stemmed arrowheads, there were some that have been more commonly used throughout history.
Firstly, there was the contracting stem which was tapered from the shoulders down to the base. These tapers varied in their design and could range from being relatively small to extremely long and sharp.
Next, we have the expanding stem which was an arrowhead that, rather than being tapered from the shoulder, had an expanding stem. These arrowheads are sometimes confused with side-notched arrows (which we will discuss later on) but there is a clear difference in the notches.
Notched arrowheads, as their name may suggest, have notches in the design, Once again, there are several different types of notched arrowheads, including the following;
- Side notched arrowheads feature parallel notches that run from the blade into the body of the arrowhead.
- Corner notches arrows typically appear to have barbs due to the location of the notches which are usually at the corner. However, there are some designs whose notches are at the base.
- Basal notched arrowheads have notches that are carved from the base of the head. This design typically causes rather long barbs.
Other Types Of Arrowheads
There are some arrowheads which cannot be placed into a specific category, but nonetheless, they have been used extensively throughout history.
Mechanical arrowheads are a more modern invention and we will look at modern arrowheads in a little more detail later on. However, in short, these usually have blades that retract before the shot, these blades then expand as they hit the target. They are not designed to be used in bows with a higher draw weight.
Bifurcated arrowheads have a notch that is carved out from the base of the blade but there is not one consistent design. You will see these types of arrowheads with notches and stemmed points.
Arrowhead Blade Shapes
Arrowhead blades come in a variety of shapes and each one is designed to work in a different way. When looking at antique arrowheads or indeed, choosing a modern arrowhead for your archery practice, it is good to know the types of shapes that you have at your disposal.
- Excurvated arrowheads are perhaps one of the most easily recognizable. They have a pointed tip and widen gradually towards the base.
- Incurvated arrowheads are very similar to excurvated arrowheads but are typically much narrower due to the curved edges.
- An inward recurvate arrowhead has a wide base and pointed tip but the base tends to be wider and the entire arrowhead has a much more distinct shape.
- Serrated arrowheads have serrated edges.
- Straight arrowheads are similar in design to many other types with a wide base and pointed tip but their edges have no curves.
As well as the type of arrowhead, there are also a variety of different points. As with the design of the arrowhead itself, the point will vary depending on how the arrow is going to be used.
Over time, arrowhead points have evolved and there are some that are not used in modern archery. In contrast, others have stood the test of time and while their design may have been modernized, there are clear similarities. Let’s take a look at the various points.
Bullet Point Arrowheads
This type of arrowhead is commonly used across different types of archery, including target shooting and for small game hunting. The arrows feature a sharp steel point.
Blunt Point Arrowheads
Blunt point arrowheads may be used for similar reasons to bullet points, small game hunting, and for target practice. However, they are vastly different by design.
Rather than having a pointed tip, these arrowheads have a blunt head and are not made from just one material. You will find these types of arrows made from steel, rubber, and sometimes plastic.
Bodkin Point Arrowheads
We discussed bodkin arrowheads earlier on and their effectiveness in war since they were able to penetrate through tough chain armor. However, this is a design that has remained through the ages and is still an effective design today.
Bodkin points were once made from iron and it is believed that this was because it could have helped them travel further. The design is rigid and short and you will notice that they have a cross-section.
Field Point Arrowheads
Archers use field point arrowheads for both game hunting and for target shooting. One of the main reasons that they are so popular is because of their design. Unlike other types of arrowheads, field points can be removed from the target without causing significant amounts of damage.
What’s more, if a shot is misfired, the arrow will not end up being lodged in an obstacle such as a tree.
The field point arrowhead is made with a sharp steel point and could be mistaken for a target point. In order to tell them apart, one only needs to look at the shoulders as these are extremely distinct on a field point arrowhead.
Broadhead Point Arrowheads
In modern archery, you will often see broadhead points being used, particularly in large game hunting. This is because, in the United State, these are the only arrowheads that are legal for this type of archery.
The broadhead point is extremely sharp and is made up of steel blades, sometimes multiple blades which are very well made and robust.
If you practice archery in modern times, you will be extremely unlikely to come across an elf arrow. This is because they are no longer used in the sport despite having been used for many thousands of years.
This type of arrowhead was made from flint and often used for hunting and as a war weapon. In some of the remote corners of the world where native people still live a traditional lifestyle, these arrowheads may still be used.
However, in the modern world, the only place you are likely to see this type of arrowhead point would be in jewelry. It is believed that wearing an elf arrow is a way of repelling the dark side of witchcraft.
JUDO Point Arrowheads
Not to be confused with the martial art of the same name, JUDO arrowheads are fitted with a spring. This prevents them from becoming lost during practice.
Fish Point Arrowheads
Archery is not limited to shooting land-based targets. There are many people and communities that used archery as a way of fishing.
These aptly named arrowhead points are used for just such an occasion. They usually have very long barbs which will prevent the fish from escaping once the arrow has been released and are much longer than other types of arrows.
Target Point Arrowheads
These are bullet-shaped arrows that have a very sharp point. They are, as their name would suggest, used for shooting at target butts. Their design means that they will not cause much damage and can be easily dislodged. However, they will also easily penetrate the target.
Safety Point Arrowheads
Many people enjoy taking part in historical reenactments but of course, using sharp arrowheads in these situations would mean that there is a very real risk of injury.
That is where safety point arrows come in.
These arrows are designed to be used with bows that have an extremely low draw weight and have flat, wide heads so that they do minimal damage when hitting a target.
Depending on where you are in the world, there may be different rules and regulations around the sizes and uses of these arrows. But you will typically find that the reenactment participants also have a say in the type of safety arrowheads that are used.
Buying Historical Arrowheads
In modern archery, stone arrowheads and some ancient designs are no longer used but thanks to archeology, there are arrowheads being found all the time. You might even find one yourself when out for a walk.
If you are not fortunate enough to make an ancient discovery, there are dealers who specialize in arrowheads. But how can you be sure that what you are getting is an authentic arrowhead?
The first thing that you should think about is finding a reputable dealer. Speaking to other people about their experience with antique dealers is a good way to pick out the good from the bad.
However, one of the most reliable ways to determine the authenticity of an arrowhead is to ask the dealer to provide you with the relevant documents. If they cannot do this then it is not worth parting with your hard-earned cash as they could be selling a replica arrowhead.
Telling The Real From The Fake
Asking for certification from your arrowhead dealer is an excellent way to guarantee that what you are getting is the real deal. But it can be helpful to know a little about the arrowheads yourself so that you can look over them and determine how genuine they are.
- Talk to the dealer about where the arrowhead came from. If it is genuine, they should have this information. You might also take a look at other arrowheads that were found in the same location as these will likely be similar.
- Looking at the edges of the arrowhead is a great way to tell its authenticity. Genuine arrowheads will usually have a serrated edge that has circular dents. In arrowheads that have been mass-produced as replicas, these dents may not be present at all or will not feature a circular shape. Keep in mind that hundreds, or even thousands of years ago, they would not have had the tools to make a perfect arrowhead, so irregularity is a good sign.
- Speak to experts. There are plenty of internet discussion groups and historical societies that you can have face to face meetings with other enthusiasts.
One of the most common types of modern arrowheads is the broadhead point arrowhead. As we have discovered, these are extremely sharp and effective weapons that are mainly used when hunting large game.
These arrowheads are typically made from steel. This is a lightweight material that can be molded to a sharp point easily. Not only this but steel is incredibly durable and weather resistant.
When you are out in the field, you cannot always guarantee the weather, and having a steel arrowhead will ensure that your equipment does not deteriorate.
Another common type of modern arrowhead is the mechanical arrowhead. These have retractable blades that expand upon impact. Once again, these are often made from lightweight and durable metals such as steel.
Are arrowheads made by heating rock and dripping water on it?
This is a common misconception, the process of making arrowheads is much more intricate and complex. Stone arrowheads that were made from flint need to go through a process known as flint-knapping which uses one piece of stone to forge another.
Are all triangular stone items arrowheads?
Not all objects that are made from stone and triangular in shape will be arrowheads. Of course, you may be lucky enough to stumble upon an arrowhead but you should inspect the item to determine its original use.
Some stone objects could have been used as cutting tools whereas others might have been arrowheads. The best way to determine this is to look at the edges and for signs of damage.
Does it take a long time to make an arrowhead?
If you have never made an arrowhead before, then, of course, it is going to take some time, and you probably won’t get it right straight away.
This is something that takes a great deal of skill but once that skill has been acquired, some of the most adept flint knappers can create an arrowhead in as little as half an hour.