Lithic Terminology

This page is meant to provide typical jargon used in identifying, defining, and describing projectile points. It is based on information collated from multiple glossaries for general understanding of the selected term. Examples of certain features found in the Bullen Projectile Point Type Collection have links when available.

Projectile Points

Spearheads versus Arrowheads – projectile points vary in size and overall morphology (shape). Larger, heavier projectile points are commonly referred to as spears or darts (e.g., Clovis, Savannah River, Simpson, Bolen, Alachua), while smaller, lighter projectile points are commonly called arrowheads or arrow points (e.g., Pinellas, Tampa, Itchetucknee) and are typically associated with use on a bow type shaft. Typically, these are attached (hafted) to a shaft and used for propulsion or thrusting (e.g., spear, dart, arrow). Prehistoric projectile points in the southeastern U.S. were predominantly made from stone, bone, or ivory. Metal was also used in the historic period in North America.

General Body Shapes

General Body Shapes
  1. Lanceolate – a blade that expands from the tip into a curved form and gradually converges towards the base or corners (e.g., Itchetucknee).
  2. Ovate (egg-shaped) – a blade that expands from the tip into a rounded base (e.g., Tampa).
  3. Triangular – a blade that expands from the tip into the shape of a triangle (e.g., Pinellas, O’Leno).
  4. Constricted (also called Waisted) – a blade that expands from the tip into a wider curved form and then tapers towards the base forming a narrow waist (e.g., Simpson, Suwannee).
  5. Pentagonal – a blade that expands from the tip into the shape of a pentagon (e.g., Nuckolls Dalton).

Component Parts

Base - the bottom (proximal) portion of a projectile point.

Examples of common projectile point base shapes:

figure 1
  1. Convex base - the base protrudes proximally (e.g., Bolen Beveled Subtype 4, Ocala, Westo).
  2. Straight base - the edge of the base is flat (e.g., Gilchrist, Kirk Serrated, Savannah River, Newnan).
  3. Concave base - the base is incurvate (e.g., Gadsden, Tallahassee, Simpson).

Tip (also called Point) – the top (distal) portion of the projectile point.

Blade (also called Body or Face) - the portion of a projectile point including the edge that is above the area used for hafting. The body of the projectile point is comprised of two “faces” or blade surfaces.

Hafting area - the portion of a projectile point at or near the base where it is attached, typically by wrapping or lashing, to a shaft.

Notch – the portion of a projectile point that has been removed on the sides, corners, or at the base of the projectile point.

Examples of common projectile point notches:

projectile point notches
  1. Corner-notched point - a projectile point which has been flaked where the side of the blade and the base meet (e.g., Wacissa, Bolen Plain Subtype 4, Bolen Beveled Subtype 4, Lafayette, Clay).
  2. Side-notched point - a projectile point which has been flaked on the side of the blade (e.g., Greenbriar, Bolen Plain Subtype 2, Bolen Beveled Subtype 2).
  3. Unnotched point - a projectile point which has not been notched around the hafting area (e.g., Thonotosassa, Savannah River, Stanfield).
  4. Basally-notched point - a projectile point which has been flaked along the base of a projectile point (e.g., Hernando, Citrus).

    4a. Bifurcated - another basally-notched projectile point which has been flaked at both corners as well as in the center of the base. Note: There are no fully bifurcated projectile points present in the Bullen Projectile Point Type Collection, but there is one type that Bullen describes as almost bifurcated (Arredondo).

Ear - the portion of a projectile point which results from corner-notching.

Examples of common projectile point ears:

  1. Auricle - the portion of an unnotched, lanceolate-shaped projectile point where the blade edge and the base meet at the corners and create a lobe-like protrusion (e.g., Beaver Lake, Suwannee, Simpson).
  2. Barb - the portion of a projectile point located at the bottom of the blade edge, not the corner of the base (e.g., Lafayette, Culbreath, Bolen Plain Subtype 4, Bolen Beveled Subtype 4).

Stem (also called Tang) - the basal portion of a projectile point just below the corner- or side-notched region that may be used for hafting.

Examples of common projectile point stems:

projectile point stems
  1. Expanded stem - a stem that expands horizontally, generally as a result of side-notching (e.g., Bolen Beveled Subtype 2, Bolen Plain Subtype 2, Greenbriar, Duval Subtype 1).
  2. Expanding stem - a stem that expands towards the base (e.g., Clay, Lafayette, Leon).
  3. Contracting stem - a stem that converges towards the base (e.g., Sumter, Hillsborough).
  4. Straight stem - a stem with parallel sides (e.g., Kirk Serrated, Alachua).

Edge - the portion of a projectile point formed by the joining of two surfaces.

Blade Edge - the worked edges of a projectile point. There are several common projectile point edge shapes and styles.

Examples of common projectile point blade edges:

projectile point blade edges
  1. Excurvate edge - a blade whose edges curve outwardly (e.g., Itchetucknee, Tampa, Bradford, Florida Adena).
  2. Straight edge - a blade whose edges are straight (e.g., Pinellas, O’Leno, Hernando).
  3. Incurvate edge - a blade whose edges curve inwardly towards the center of the body of the blade. Note: None of the Bullen Projectile Point types exhibit this trait. See Bases for an example of an incurvate basal edge.
  4. Recurvate edge - a blade whose edges curve outwardly or inwardly from the tip of the projectile point and then curve in the opposite direction (inwardly or outwardly) as it reaches the base or corner of the blade (e.g., Clay, Beaver Lake, Simpson).
  5. Serrated edge - a blade whose edges have small flakes removed regularly resulting in a jagged, saw-like margin (e.g., Kirk Serrated, Tallahassee).
  6. Beveled edge - a blade whose sides result from removing flakes on an angle or inclination that slopes away from either a vertical or horizontal surface (e.g., Bolen Beveled Subtype 1, Bolen Beveled Subtype 2). Note: Compare the five Bolen Beveled subtypes. The Hardee Beveled type was included in the Guide, however, no examples exist in the Museum’s Bullen Projectile Point Type Collection.

Basal Edge - the worked base of a projectile point.

Examples of common projectile point basal edge types:

  1. Bifurcated – a base that has been flaked at both corners as well as at its center. Note: There are no fully bifurcated projectile points present in the Bullen Projectile Point Type Collection, but there is one type that Bullen describes as almost bifurcated (Arredondo).
  2. Fluted – a base that has had a large flake driven off on one or both sides of the blade from the base towards the tip. This results in a long, linear groove running vertically up the center of the blade (e.g., Clovis).
  3. Basal Grinding – a base that has been abraded and worked to dull the edges (e.g., Nuckolls Dalton, Colbert Dalton, Greenbriar).