Native American Indian Arrowheads: The Ultimate Informational Guide

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where to look for arrowheads look near fields near water
This Native Amercian arrowhead was found in a field near a water source.

Native American Indian Arrowheads: The Ultimate Informational Guide

If you’ve ever knelt down to pick up a Native American Indian arrowhead or other Native American artifact from out of the dirt in a field or from out of a creek, then you already know that feeling.  You’re one of the lucky ones that has experienced the rush you get when you find that perfect intact Indian arrowhead.




Just knowing that what you’re holding in your hand was made by another person hundreds, maybe even thousands of years ago.  And to think that the last person to hold that same arrowhead was the person that carefully made it and depended on it.

Who was this person?  Where did they live?  How did they lose it?  Were they hunting? Was it lost in battle?  The questions are as endless as stories that hide within that one arrowhead.

native american indian arrowhead on desert floorIf you’ve ever thought about hunting for Native American Indian arrowheads, stop thinking and get out there!  Arrowhead hunting is a great way to get outside and enjoy nature, all while connecting with the rich history of where you’re standing.

I hope you find this ultimate guide to hunting Native American Indian arrowheads helpful in your artifact hunting endeavors.  If you’re a rockhound like me, I hope this helps you expand your ever growing collection as well as expands your interests!

How I Got Hooked Hunting Arrowheads

I found my first indian arrowhead when I was 19. It was a small, black and intact side notched point made out of obsidian. I found that first arrowhead in the high desert of Eastern Oregon as I was simply walking through the sagebrush hunting rabbits.  I stopped briefly stopped to take a look at my surroundings.  While doing so, I looked down and lying on the surface between my  two feet was a perfect, beautiful black obsidian arrowhead.

I couldn’t stop wondering how long had that arrowhead been lying there? Who made it? I’ve been infatuated with Native American Indian arrowheads ever since.

What Are Native American Indian Arrowheads

The arrowhead is simply the sharp tip end of the arrow.  This sharp stone tip was used to pierce the flesh of the animal being hunted, either killing or maiming it.




How Arrowheads Were Attached To Arrows

Arrowheads were fashioned out of multiple types of stone that would have been readily available to the Native American people.  Arrowheads are most often times triangular or pointed oval in shape and frequently notched. These stone arrowheads were attached to the shaft of the arrow by being set into a slot in the end of the shaft. The arrowheads were tied to the arrow shaft with sinew, rawhide or cord which passed through the notches.

how native american indian arrowheads were attached to arrows
How an arrowhead was attached to a wooden arrow.

Those that were not notched were affixed to the arrow by passing the cord over and under the angle at the base, in a figure eight like pattern.  Sometimes glue, gum and cement were also used to make the fastening even more secure.

native american indian obsidian arrowhead attached to wooden shaft of arrow
Recreation of how an arrowhead was attached to an arrow.

How Were Arrowheads Used

Arrowheads were a very important tool and weapon to Native American people.  They were used to hunt, fish and fight battles. Arrowheads were vital to nearly every Native American tribe regardless what part of the country they were from. The art of making these vitally important tools were taught to Indian boys even as children.

Stone arrowheads were used on spears as well as arrows. Typically, the only difference between these two types of arrowheads were size.  Larger arrowheads were attached to spears, which could be thrown great distances and with great accuracy to hunt animals as well as to spear fish. Smaller sized stone arrowheads were attached to arrows and shot with a stringed bow.

How Were Indian Arrowheads Made?

Native American Indian arrowheads were made from flint, or hard stones that could flake easily.  These hard stones were sharpened into projectile points by a process known as flintknapping. To make useful projectile points like arrowheads or spear tips, the piece of flint was struck with a hammerstone to remove large sharp flakes of flint.  These large sharp flakes were then broken down into smaller usable, thinner pieces of stone.

obsidian arrowhead made by ancient native american indians
(credit: Darron Birgenheier)  Note the markings on the arrowhead created by the flintknapping process.

The next step in making stone arrowheads was called pressure flaking. During the pressure flaking process, the Native Americans would place a pointed tool, such as an antler horn,  on the edge of the stone and apply an inward pressure to the horn to remove small, thin flakes from the stone. The purpose of pressure flaking was to shape and refine the projectile point into a more usable piece.

Artists interpretation of a Native American flintknapper.
how did they make arrowheads flintknapping is the process native american indians used to make arrowheads
Arrowheads were made by a process known as flintknapping.

The final step in the arrowhead making process was called notching. Notches in the arrowhead were made by using a combination of pressure flaking and abrading, or grinding. By doing this, they would carve out the gaps, or notches, that the Native Americans would use to attach the arrowhead to the shaft of the arrow.




What Are Arrowheads Made Of?

American Indians were known for using the best material available for making tools like arrowheads and spear tips. At times, the best material they had available to make these tools were not only stones, but bone and antler as well.

However, when we talk about arrowheads today, we generally only refer to those arrowheads that were made out of stone. Stone lasts forever and does not decay like bone and antler.  It’s these stone arrowheads and artifacts that have survived and we’re able to find hundreds and even thousands of years later.

As mentioned earlier, many different types of rocks were used to make arrowheads.  But it’s difficult to say which type of rock was most common.  The largest factor in determining what kind of rock was most common is knowing what part of the country you’re hunting arrowheads in.

collection of native american indian arrowheads were made out of many different kinds of stones and rocks.
(credit: Jeffrey Beall)
Multiple types of stone used to make these arrowheads.

For example, in the Northwest and other areas of the West coast, it’s very common to find arrowheads made out of obsidian.  This is because obsidian is fairly easy to come by in these areas, so it makes sense that ancient people would have used it to make different kinds of tools.

obsidian was a common stone used to make arrowheads by the native american indian people
Obsidian

On the East coast, it’s common to see arrowheads made out of felsite and rhyolite, because this type of stone is in abundance in that region of the country.

Felsite was a common stone used to make indian arrowheads
(Credit:James St. John) Felsite

In the Southwest and surrounding areas, materials like petrified wood and quartzite tend to be fairly common arrowhead material.

quartzite was used to make native american indian arrowheads
(credit: José-Manuel Benito Álvarez) Quartzite

As you can see,  it really depends a lot on what part of the country the Native Indians lived in, or traded in, that determines what kind of stone the arrowheads were made out of.

So, what are arrowheads made of? Below is a list of the most common types of stone used to make arrowheads here in the United States by Native American Indians.

Most Common Stones Used To Make Indian Arrowheads

  • Quartzite
  • Jasper
  • Quartz
  • Chaldecony
  • Agate
  • Obsidian
  • Chert
  • Petrified wood
  • Basalt

How Many Arrowheads Are Still Out There?

There is no way to know exactly how many arrowheads are still out there waiting to be found.  But consider this; recent scientific evidence has shown that humans inhabited North America as far back as 130,000 years ago.  Now, if the average life expectancy of prehistoric Native Americans was, for example 40-45 years, just think about how many arrowheads and spear tips that one person would have made in his lifetime.  Especially knowing that they began making projectile points as young children.

how many arrowheads are out there probably millions this is one cache of arrowheads
(credit: lithiccastinglab.com) A single cache of arrowheads

In addition, remember that every day existence relied heavily on these stone tools.  In combination with gathering various grown foods, animals were also hunted for consumption, which would have required a very large number of arrowheads. If they didn’t hunt and gather, they didn’t eat.

Now take that one person, and the number of arrowheads he would have made and used during his lifetime, and multiply that by the millions of people that inhabited the continent at that time.  Then multiply that by the numerous generations that lived in and migrated to North America during those 130,000 years.  The number of arrowheads lying in the ground at this moment must be in the millions.




What Are The Best Places To Look For Indian Arrowheads

Most people interested in looking for Native American Indian arrowheads want to know where the best places to look for them are.  Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve found to be some of the best places to look for American indian arrowheads.  Most experienced Indian artifact hunters agree that If you take the time to identify and hunt these areas, you significantly increase your chances of locating a lost arrowhead or other Native American Indian artifact.

Indian Campsites

If you can identify where an old Native American Indian camp is located, you are most definitely be in the right area to find arrowheads and other artifacts.  Some Indian campsites were used continuously for hundreds of years, while others might have only been used briefly. Imagine how many artifacts would have been left behind if one campsite was used for multiple generations.

Native American Indian camp located near water source and is a great place to hunt for arrowheads
Native American Indian camp located near water source.

To find a campsite, you want to first look for a source of water.  It might be a creek, a river or a spring.  Take caution with lakes and ponds though, as they can lead you in the wrong direction. Many lakes and ponds are man made and are not much older than 50 to 100 years.  Make sure the creek or other water source predates European settlers.

where to look for arrowheads look near old indian camps
Depiction of a small Native American camp.

Once a good water source is located, think about what other factors might have been advantageous to the people living there. Perhaps an area that is elevated and out of the flood plain, like on a nearby knoll would be a place to consider. Is there an area that would provide natural shelter from the weather, like an overhang or something similar. They would probably want to have their camp near a trail or walkway.  Many roads today follow old Native American trails.  Don’t disregard a possible spot to hunt just because it’s near a road!

Dirt Roads and Roadside Ditches

I know of many arrowhead hunters, myself included, that like to walk along dirt roads and look in the ditches for artifacts.  As mentioned earlier, modern roads often times follow the trails that Native Americans originally created.  Pay special attention to the areas that have recently been scraped or leveled.  Once that debris is pushed off to the side of the road, many times it will resurface previously buried arrowheads.  It’s especially helpful to go out right after it rains. The rain will wash off any little amount of dirt that may be covering the projectile, making it much easier to see.

Creeks and Rivers

Taking time to hunt for arrowheads along creeks and rivers can prove to be very productive. Ancient Native Americans used creeks and rivers as hunting grounds for deer, elk and other animals. Some native tribes also used projectile points to spear fish and eels.  No doubt it’s for these reasons that there are so many arrowheads located in creeks and riverbeds.

native american using a spear arrowhead to spear fish look for arrowheads in creeks and rivers where to look for arrowheads
Native American using a spear to catch fish.

When hunting for arrowheads in creeks and rivers, wait until the time of year when the water level has gone down enough to expose at least some of the gravel bed.  Some creeks dry up completely, which makes for an even greater location for you to look for arrowheads.

where to look for indian arrowheads look near gravel bars.
Look for arrowheads near gravel bars.

Pay close attention to the gravel beds and areas of erosion.  If the gravel is covered with silt, or there is a lot of leaves and other material in the water, don’t even bother.  Arrowheads will be much too difficult to see if covered with debris.  Look for areas with moving water that will carry the debris away.  Look past the waterline as well as up onto the shore a few feet.

For more information and tips about hunting arrowheads in creeks and rivers, read my article, How To Find Arrowheads In the Woods: What You Need To Know.

Fields

Fields are another great place to hunt for arrowheads. Even though a field might seem like an unlikely place for arrowheads to be, remember that hundreds of years ago, the landscape was significantly different than it is now. What is a field now very likely could have been a lightly wooded meadow, making it an excellent hunting area for the people that lived there. Many generations may have hunted that same meadow, firing many arrows into the brush, never to be seen again.

where to look for arrowheads look near fields near water
This Native Amercian arrowhead was found in a field near a water source.

When hunting for arrowheads in a field, first and foremost, make certain that you have permission to be on the property.  Also make certain that you have permission to take whatever artifacts you plan on taking with you.

Many arrowhead hunters will only walk a field after it has either been plowed or the dirt turned up in some way. They’ll then wait until after a good hard rain has fallen.  They do this because the arrowheads will be much easier to see once the rain washes the dirt off the stone. Sometimes the rain will wash away just enough loose dirt that a small portion of the arrowhead will become exposed.

If there is a source of water near the field, try to walk that area first. A source of water could mean Indian camps or a prime hunting area.  Both of these possibilities can produce a significant amount of artifacts.

top places to look and hunt for arrowheads

To summarize the best places to look for Indian arrowheads:

  1. Look for Indian camps. Best place to find artifacts is to look where they lived.

 

  1. Look in roadside ditches. Modern machinery will push arrowheads into the ditches.

 

  1. Explore Creeks and Rivers.  Where there was water, there were inhabitants.

 

  1. Walk a Farmers Field. Fields weren’t always fields. They used to be prime hunting areas.  

 

  1. Always get landowner’s permission and become knowledgeable of local laws

 

Have you spent much time hunting for American Indian arrowheads?  I know there is a large number of people that spend lots of time looking for these wonderful artifacts and connections to our past.

If so, please share your story below! We would love to hear any additional information and tips you might have for other arrowhead seekers.

Follow us on Facebook and post your arrowhead finds there! We all would love to see what you’ve found.