Stemmed Dart Points

Throughout the 9,000-year span of the Archaic era, hunters used stemmed projectile points of varying styles, sizes, and forms to tip their weapons. The rather radical change in weaponry style from the more-streamlined lanceolate points used throughout most of the preceding Paleoindian era marks a distinctive technological shift.

The adoption (or perhaps invention) of the stemmed point form in Texas did not occur within a single time period, however, but rather in fits and starts, with a single stemmed point type—Wilson, or “Early Stemmed”—preceding others by some 2,500 years. Found at the Wilson-Leonard site in Williamson County in a circa 11,000-year-old cultural zone (as well as at other less securely dated sites across mainly central and south Texas), Wilson points were used by a people who buried their dead and practiced a broad-spectrum economy.

Unlike the more common lanceolate points still in use during that time period (and by earlier Clovis and Folsom cultures)—all of which were well-suited to thrusting lances or spears that could easily be withdrawn from animals—Wilson points were crafted with small barbs and a thick, heavily ground, expanding stem. While we cannot know all the reasons for this new entry among Paleoindian hunting kits, the Wilson point was among the first signals of more widespread changes to come as prehistoric Texans began to develop regionalized Archaic lifeways.

The use of stemmed dart points at this early time period may indicate experimentation and advances in weaponry systems, such as use of the atlatl as a dart-throwing device. (There is no direct evidence of this and some experts believe that lanceolate-tipped spears were also hurled with atlatls.) Prehistoric hunters, however, did not settle on the stemmed form to the exclusion of the earlier lanceolate type. At the Wilson-Leonard site, Wilson points were followed by additional Paleoindian lanceolate forms—the Plainview-like St. Mary’s Hall and Golondrina-Barber styles—as well as several Early Archaic lanceolate forms with contracting bases, such as Angostura and the unusually thick Thrall points. It was not until roughly 9,000 years ago that prehistoric hunters began making fully stemmed points, as seen in the Early Split-Stemmed series, such as Gower and Hoxie.

Changes in some projectile point forms may signal changes in hafting technology, as well. Whereas stemmed forms with primarily straight bases (such as Wilson) may have been fitted into split or slotted shafts, lanceolate forms with tapered bases (eg, Angostura, Thrall, and perhaps Hoxie) likely were wedged into a conical socket in the end of a foreshaft or shaft. The next wave of stemmed points forms had deeply concave or bifurcate bases (e.g., Early Split Stem), and these likely required a slotted shaft or foreshaft with a central protrusion on which the concave base could be securely seated. This latter hafting mode would have had decreased lateral movement, making them useful as knives as well as projectile tips. At Wilson-Leonard, a high degree of blade resharpening, including beveling, was seen in the Early Archaic points, supporting their likely heavy use as knives.

In other stemmed point forms, size and design may have been guided by a particular prey. Some have argued that the broad-bladed, deeply barbed Bell-Andice series as well as the Late Archaic Castroville and Montell styles may have been used for hunting bison, and indeed, the occurrence of these points in some areas may be correlated with more moist periods when buffalo were present. So far we do not have enough solid evidence to make the case.

What we can say with confidence is that dart point styles never remained constant for long. The hunters and warriors of the Plateaus and Canyonlands experimented with many different variations on the stemmed dart point theme. Although the general patterns through time are now fairly well known, much undocumented and unexplained variation exists. Some archeologists have argued that at any one point in time, one or two dart point styles held sway over much of the region, perhaps associated with specific cultural groups. Others of us strongly suspect that it was never that simple and believe that we are a long way from being able to sort out and explain the variations and themes of stemmed dart point style and technology through time.

drawing of dart points
A succession of chiefly Middle and Late Archaic dart points from Kincaid Shelter in Uvalde County showing different sizes and forms used by prehistoric hunters. Drawings by Hal Story.
drawing of Wilson points
Wilson points. Dating to roughly 11,000 years ago, these projectile points from the Wilson-Leonard site are the earliest stemmed form known in Texas and much of the nation. They are distinguished from later stemmed varieties by a very thick stem with ground lateral edges. Image from Collins et al 1998, Vol. II: Fig. 13-76.
photo of lanceolate points
Unfluted lanceolate points and fragments from the Wilson-Leonard site in Williamson County, ranging from the Late Paleoindian Golondrina-Barber on bottom row to Early Archaic Angostura at top. Many of these points were found in deposits at the same level or overlying the aberrant Paleoindian stemmed form, Wilson, indicating that the transition to stemmed points was not a rapid, or continuous, one.
drawing of Thrall
These large thick lanceolate points, named Thrall for a nearby community, were found in Early Archaic deposits. Drawings by Pam Headrick from Collins 1998, Vol. II: Fig. 13-5.
drawing of split-stem points
Examples of Early Archaic split-stem (or bifurcate stem) projectile points from the Wilson-Leonard site including the types Gower and the large Jetta specimen (top row) and Hoxie variants (bottom row). Note resharpening and beveling of lateral edges on Hoxie specimens. Drawings by Pam Headrick from Collins 1998, Vol II: Fig. 13-32.
photo of Castroville points
Castroville points from Bone Bed 3 at Bonfire Shelter in Langtry County. These broad-bladed, barbed points and others, such as Montell, were found within a circa 2800-year-old layer of badly charred bison bone, the uppermost buffalo jump deposit at the site. The center point illustrates the degree of burning which occurred when the rotting heap of buffalo carcasses apparently combusted spontaneously.
drawing of bell points
Bell/Andice points from the Wilson-Leonard site display the wide blades and massive barbs characteristic of this Middle Archaic style. Drawing by Pam Headrick from Collins 1998 Vol. II: Fig.13-107.