Today you will get to find out what were arrowheads made of throughout history. We will take a deep dive into the history of arrowheads and what they were made of going from the stone age through antiquity and to the medieval period.
Below you have the entire point of the article written out for you.
Arrowheads in the stone age were made by using flint and obsidian rocks and sometimes animal bones which were then crafted into sharp points. Later in antiquity arrowheads were made using bronze or iron. In the medieval period, bronze iron and later steel was used as well. While in the modern period, arrowheads are made using metal alloys such as steel.
Weird question but, can you guess how old the oldest arrowhead is? Let’s continue this article with a detailed breakdown of arrowheads through history. From the stone age all the way to modern times.
How Old Are Arrowheads?
The oldest arrowheads were found in Sibudu Cave in South Africa. The arrowheads were found to be 64.000 years old in some cases and predate the earliest known use of bow and arrow by at least 10.000 years.
The cave was discovered in the early 1980″s and the following set of excavations was completed in the late nineties. The archaeologists discovered a series of interesting findings. But for our purposes what you should know is this. The stone arrowhead they discovered was dated to be 64.000 years old while the bone arrowhead was 61.000 years old.
An amazing thing when you consider the cavemen of that era had at best extremely primitive tools. And for them to be able to use a bow and arrow is not short of amazing.
So how did they pull it off?
If they were primitives at best how did they fashion their arrowheads? As you will see they used what they had at hand. Stones and bones.
What Were Arrowheads Made Off In The Stone Age?
In the stone age, arrowheads were primarily made out of animal bone and from stones such as flint or obsidian. This makes sense considering their tools were rather primitive and they had to resort to using a harder stone to break an animal’s bone or a softer stone.
It is widely believed that stone age people started using animal bones first as arrowheads and then graduated to using arrowheads made of stone.
The move to stone arrows was made when they discovered that hitting a softer rock with a harder rock made the softer rock break. Groundbreaking stuff I know.
Kidding aside, there are only a couple of stones that can be made into arrowheads by using primitive technology.
What Rocks Make The Best Arrowheads?
The best rocks to make stone arrowheads with are flint, quartz, and obsidian. They all have the wonderful property that they can be chiseled into the desired shape by smashing a rock into it. And as flint and obsidian break off they form a thin piece of rock that is also very sharp. Perfect for an arrowhead!
And this tiny sharp piece of flint or obsidian is then attached to a straight piece of wood using animal sinew or animal-based resin and there you get a primitive arrowhead and a primitive arrow.
So, quartz, flint, and obsidian were most commonly used for making stone arrowheads. Meaning, the answer to the popular question of “what’s an Obsidian arrowhead” is very simple. An Obsidian arrowhead is an arrowhead made by breaking off a piece of obsidian rock and shaping it into the shape of an arrowhead.
It doesn’t look pretty but it gets the job done. This was a piece of state-of-the-art hunting equipment for tens of thousands of years until the bronze age when humans discovered there are other kinds of things out there besides rock.
So now, let’s take a look at the next advancement in arrowhead design in bronze and all the way through the antiquity era.
What Were Arrowheads Made Off In The Antiquity Age?
Arrowheads in the bronze and antiquity ages were made using bronze and later iron. Even though bronze was better for use in the military, iron was far more abundant than the materials needed to make bronze. Hence why iron slowly displaced bronze in the use of making arrowheads.
By this point in the history of archery, technology made a massive jump. At this stage, you will find that armies that numbered in the thousands could not rely on stone or even bone arrowheads. The main reason is the great leap forward in metallurgy and the use of protection.
As armies grew and size and we humans got a bit smarter we started wearing shields and armor on the battlefield. This was armor could not be penetrated by any stone or bone arrowheads.
Hence why we started using bronze. Bronze is roughly 88% copper and 12% tin. The combination of these two metals made bronze very hard and easily meltable.
They melted the two metals and poured them into a mold and then broke off the mold. After that, it’s just a case of sharpening the arrowheads.
The entire process was faster than making stone arrowheads and was thus easily adopted to outfit entire armies with enough arrowheads.
The Downside Of Using Bronze For Arrowheads
The downside of using bronze is bronze. It’s an alloy that consists of two metals. Copper and tin. Not every ancient kingdom had easy access to both of these metals. That is why to quote Britanicca.com:
The substitution of iron for bronze in tools and weapons from about 1000 BC was the result of iron’s abundance compared to copper and tin rather than any inherent advantages of iron.Britannica.com
Bronze was better but iron was cheaper. Hence why iron displaced the use of bronze. It is a similar reason as to why thousands of years later muskets displaced the use of bows. As you can see here.
A Few Arrowheads From Antiquity
You can see from the examples below that arrowheads were often made using the same alloys their shape was not always the same. Take a look here.
The Arrowhead From The Persian Empire
The first one is the Trilobite arrowhead most often associated with the Middle Eastern kingdom of antiquity such as the Persian Empire.
More than 3000 of these were found near the ancient Persian capital of Persepolis, which indicates that it was the standard-issue arrowhead for the Persian Empire.
It’s rather small at just 3 cm, according to the Met museum. But even so, when fired from a composite bow used by the Persians it packed a good punch.
Now, let’s take a look at an arrowhead from another great empire a little later down the line. The Roman empire.
So, what were arrowheads in the Roman republic and empire made off?
The Arrowheads From The Roman Empire
The Ancient Romans made their arrowheads out of bronze at first which was the standard arrowhead technology of the day.
They copied the arrowheads from the Near East and made arrowheads with three sides but later down the line they started making arrowheads with 4 sides. They were far easier and faster to mass-produce than the three-sided arrowhead.
The Arrowheads From Ancient Greece
The Ancient Greeks used two-sided arrowheads made from bronze called bilobate.
This is a bilobate arrow. Made from bronze and used extensively by the greeks for a really long time. The spur you see at the bottom was designed to cause maximum damage if anyone tried to pull the arrow out of the person. It hooks into the flesh and makes it harder for anyone to pull out the arrow.
Twisted I know.
From here on out, let’s proceed to the next period. The medieval age.
What Were Arrowheads Made Off In The Medieval Period?
Arrowheads in the medieval period were made using iron and as the armor technology progressed through the Middle Ages the arrowheads were often made out of steel to increase their piercing power.
There were quite a few different arrowheads available throughout the period. The most common ones were the broadheads and the bodkin arrowhead.
Neither was quite effective against the plate armor worn by knights in the late middle ages, as you can see here, but it did enough damage to horses and openings in the knight’s armor. And if you imagine thousands of archers shooting between 8 to 10 arrows a minute you can imagine a few arrows found an opening.
These arrowheads were dominant in the European theatre of war. In the far East, if you look at the Mongols for example they had a completely different design of their arrowheads.
Mongols’ arrowheads were made using iron of various hardness. Unlike the Europeans, the Mongols did not have to fight against knights in steel-plated armor and thus could effectively use arrowheads made of iron that had a wider design.
These arrowheads were made even more deadly by the fact that they were fired from horses and by one of the greatest specimens of archery technology, the Mongol Bow.
The Strangest Arrowhead Of All Time
Since we are on the topic of the Mongols. They actually were the originators of the weirdest arrowhead ever. The whistling arrowhead.
It was designed as a hunting arrow and when fired into the air was meant to distract the prey while an archer fires the final shot. Some suggest it was even used in warfare to strike psychological terror on the battlefield.
Imagine being a soldier on the frontline and you hear whistles in the air while thousands of arrows block out the sun.
Now, let us proceed to the next time period where you will see what modern arrowheads are made of.
What Are Modern-Day Arrowheads Made Off?
Modern-day arrowheads are made primarily from steel. Steel is used for arrowheads because it provides the right degree of stiffness at an acceptable weight and price and it’s a material that is readily available in the modern world.
Modern arrowheads are divided into three categories:
- the target arrowhead
- the broadhead
- the blunt arrowhead
You will see the difference between them in the next article but suffice to say they are all made using steel. And the big upside of modern-day arrowheads is that they can be screwed on the arrow and screwed off. So, you get the chance of changing your arrowheads according to your needs.
Bowhunters love that!
That is all from my end, I hope you loved taking a stroll with me through history. And see what weird things we humans did back in the day.
To see the history of the Roman Arcubalista then go here.
And to see the comparison between arrows and bullets click here.