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The arrowhead

Find out more about one of the discoveries made at University of Reading's field school.

As we discussed in Step 1.5 the majority of work for any archaeological site takes place after the digging has finished; during the post-excavation stage of the project.

This is where most time, effort and money goes – if you imagine the project as an iceberg, excavation is the small part above the water and post-excavation is the majority below it. Post-excavation is rarely championed by television programmes and newspaper reports and is therefore often an unseen aspect of archaeology. But, as we discussed before, there is very little point in excavating in the first place if we do not look in detail at everything we have excavated.

The arrowheads were wonderful discoveries on site, but it is only through careful analysis by an expert in the lab that their real meaning begins to come out – a process we have only just begun. Close examination of the arrowheads has shown that they almost certainly represented prestigious objects. Not only is the quality of their manufacture exceptional, they are so finely made that they would have been virtually guaranteed to break if used. Indeed, merely making and trying to haft them would have been precarious.

Both arrowheads are missing their tips and, although they are still in a very sharp condition, it is certainly possible that they had been fired. We may never know this for sure, but by analysing the arrowheads under a high-powered microscope it may be possible to discern characteristic patterns of wear or damage that will tell us whether they were fired or not. This is a type of analysis known as ‘use-wear’ or ‘microwear’. Occasionally it is possible to use this technique to identify residues still stuck to the stone tools, which can provide valuable information on how they were hafted or used.

The care and skill witnessed in the manufacture of the arrowheads clearly indicates that they were important display items. They would have showcased the skills of their manufacturers and, if not actually used by their makers, could confer prestige on their owners by demonstrating their ability to secure possession. In this sense, they may have contributed to signalling identity, be it that of an exceptionally specialized flint worker or of somebody who had sufficient authority to obtain and use such rare and spectacular items. Equally important may have been the circumstances surrounding their use, even though this would lead to their destruction, and it is quite possible that they were used in ceremonial or ritualised practices, including those involving ‘conspicuous display’.

  1. What do you think the arrowheads were used for?
  2. How could experimental work on the arrowheads help us better understand their manufacture and use?

Share your thoughts in the discussion area below.

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Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond

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