Arrowheads and Spearheads- What’s the Difference?

Arrowheads and Spearheads

Not all pointy stone objects are arrowheads. In fact, there are hundreds of stone tools often mistaken as arrowheads.

In this article, I’m going to cover the main differences between arrowheads and spearheads, and why they are commonly confused.

By the end of this article, you should be able to determine what you may have found or acquired!

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Table of Contents

Arrowheads vs Spearheads

Generally, the smallest stone points were used as arrowheads and are often referred to as bird points. These are fixed to a shaft and meant to be shot with a bow and usually measure less than 1.5 inches in length. Larger stone points, which are mistakingly referred to as arrowheads are actually not shot from a bow, but instead fixed to a large pole meant for thrusting or throwing.

ArrowheadsSpearheads
Smaller pointsLarger points
Lighter than spear pointsHeavier than arrow points
Capable of being projected or thrown at objectsPresumed to have been kept in the hunter’s hand
Made to be used with a bow and arrowUsed on the end of a shaft for thrusting
Dated back to 14,000 years agoDated back to 200,000 years ago
Used for hunting, targets, and warfareUsed for hunting, fishing, and warfare

Why The Confusion?

Projectile points range in unique varieties of shapes and styles and vary from chronological periods, culture, and intended functions. These wide varieties make it tricky for a general amateur to distinguish.

Heck, sometimes it’s even hard for trained professionals to distinguish!

But, consider what we’re talking about here. Sharpened rocks, that are literally thousands of years old. It takes a trained eye to understand and notice the smallest details for correct identification.

The type of material used, where it was found, the size of the flakes or the direction of knapping. It’s no easy feat!

But, it is usually pretty easy to determine the difference between arrowheads and spearheads.

You May Also Like: The Official Overstreet Indian Arrowhead Identification & Price Guide

Arrowheads

Arrowheads are among the most easily recognized and found artifacts found in the world. There are many untold stories of children discovering vast amounts of clearly shaped points ( arrowheads and spearheads ) in common places from creek beds to fields.

Most people recognize an arrowhead when they see one- a stone-like object reshaped to be pointed at one end.

Arrowheads are artifacts used during the Stone age and dated back over 14,000 years ago.

Arrowheads are objects usually sharpened and fixed to the end of a shaft and shot with bows. Arrowheads are the smallest point types (generally measure less than 1 inch). The reason for this being that the weight of the arrowhead affects the flight of an arrow.

Arrowheads were made by a sustained effort of chipping and flaking stone, better known as “flint knapping.”

Next, raw pieces of stone were shaped by hitting them with another stone (percussion flaking), and lastly, a softer pressure was applied by using a stone or antlers (pressure flaking) to get the wanted final shape and size.

What are Arrowheads Made of?

While numerous arrowheads were from flaking stone, stone arrowheads weren’t always the best choice for hunters. Stone arrow points tend to be heavy and destabilize the arrows and increase stress during launch.

Experimental archaeologists have identified heat treatments on some of the stones. Heat treatment was used to increase the stone’s hardness, gloss, and color alterations.

In other words, by heat-treating certain rocks and stone such as coral, it was then easier to ‘knap’ or flake away and form into an arrowhead.

Arrowheads and Spearheads
Quartz Arrowheads; Courtesy of Old Time Music Fan at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Arrowheads have been found made of the following material:

  • Flint
  • Shells
  • Chert
  • Copper
  • Wood
  • Quartz
  • Animal bone
  • Antlers
  • Animal Teeth (from Shark, Gar etc.)
  • Simple sharpening one end of the shaft

The Purpose of Arrowheads

The purpose of most projectile points, including arrowheads, are for hunting, and perhaps warfare. There are no written records during this time period, so scientists and anthropologists must rely on archaeological evidence.

Spearheads

Spearpoints are middle stone age innovations- they are basic pointed objects generally made from stone attached to the end of a long shaft or spear (this technique is known as “hafting”).

Since ancient times, the most common design incorporates a triangular or leaf-shaped spearhead attached to a shaft or pole. The spear point has a stemmed shape with a rounded stem at the bottom.

Spearheads are larger and heavier than arrowheads, and they are attached to longer shafts than dart points. Larger spears have also been used as knives, fastened to a foreshaft serving as a handle.

Pointed stone and bone objects were discovered on many archaeological sites. These points were probably used as thrusting or throwing spears, as long ago as 200,000 years.

What are Spearheads Made from?

Spearheads are made of similar materials as arrowheads; they were, however, slightly larger than arrowheads.

Stone points are the most primitive spearheads made. The stones were sharpened and put on the end of the shaft by splitting the stone slightly and then tightly secured by tying flint around the shaft.

Spearheads are made of the following materials:

  • Chert
  • Stone
  • Flint
  • Bone
  • Antlers
  • Metal
  • About Outdoors Mecca
    About Outdoors Mecca
  • Wood
  • Quartz
  • Obsidian

The Purpose of Spearheads

Two main categories of spears are for thrusting and for throwing.

The purpose of most projectile points, including spears, is for hunting, fishing, and warfare. Spears were used for hunting large mammals either by hurling the spear at the animal or by thrusting it into the animal at a close range.

The spear is probably the most common weapon used in history, although some very rare spear points have been found.

How to Identify Spearheads

Over time spearheads’ shapes and points changed. These changes are recorded by archaeologists and have been grouped into types associated with their roughly predicted dates.

Here are the four spearhead categories:

Savannah River Stemmed Points

Savannah River points are the most dominant points of the Late Archaic period (3000 to 1000 B.C.). These spearheads are large, heavy, triangular blade points with broad, square, and straight stems.

Badin Crude Triangular Points

Badin points are large, crudely made triangular spearheads with an elliptical cross-section, dating back to the Middle Woodland periods (1000 to 500 B.C.).

Yadkin Large Triangular Points

Yadkin points are large, symmetrical, and well-made isosceles triangular spearheads. The Yadkin point dates back to the Late Woodland periods (500 B.C. to A.D. 500).

The Yadkin point is similar to the Badin point, but the Yadkin point has a better flaking quality.

Randolph Stemmed Points

Randolph points are thick, small to medium-sized contracting stem points with medium ridge cross-sections. Randolph stemmed points date back to the Late Woodland periods (500 B.C. to A.D. 500).

The blades are narrow and commonly straight and may be distinguished by a medium ridge running up the center of the blade.

How to Identify An Arrowhead or Spearhead You Found

There are around 1,200 types of stone tools and arrowheads that have been recorded to date. Properly identifying your find can be difficult, so here are some tips:

1.) Record the exact location and date you found your arrowhead. This is important because certain ‘types’ of points are only found in certain areas.

2.) Note how you found the arrowhead. Was it by digging? sifting? on the surface or in a creek? This is important geographical evidence.

3.) Do not wash, or attempt to clean the arrowhead with any type of chemicals or solvents. If it is muddy, simply wash it with a bit of water.

4.) Take a few measurements of your arrowhead. Record the length, width, and height. Record the weight (in grams or ounces) and take a photo of each side.

There are numerous resources on the web, as well as publications to assist with arrowhead and stone artifact identification.

I recommend contacting a professional archaeologist or anthropologist. Start with your local college or academic institution.

Here are a few great websites for arrowhead and spear point identification:

https://typology.arrowheads.com/

https://www.projectilepoints.net/

See Also: Are My Arrowheads Worth Money?

Conclusion

To conclude, both arrowheads and spearheads are stone artifacts used thousands of years ago.

Arrowheads are projected using a bow and arrow. Spearheads are attached to the end of a shaft and are used for thrusting.

Arrowheads are reasonably smaller and lighter, whereas spearheads have larger, heavier, and finer points.