By Ruth Musser-Lopez
June 5, 2014. I had a chance this week to speak personally with an expert on prehistoric lithic (stone) tool technology, master flintknapper and authority on “arrowhead” production, Dr. J. Jeffrey Flenniken, about what he thought of one of the most famous landmarks in San Bernardino County–the “Arrowhead.” I had an ulterior motive as I am trying to convince the editor of the Sentinel to adopt the shape for the paper’s logo (more about that at the end of this story).
The local landmark is a natural arrowhead shaped landform on the slope of the hillside above the city of San Bernardino north of Wildwood Park on 40th Street and Waterman Avenue. The Arrowhead can be seen for miles around being described as 1,375 feet in length and 449 feet in width.
The outline of the arrowhead is so close to the exact shape of projectile points actually used by prehistoric Native Americans that it appears to be a man-made unnatural landscape, but it is not. The “face” of the shape is light in color due to the growth of low white sage on light colored decomposing quartz offset by the dark contrasting outline created by the surrounding darker colored creosote chaparral. The shape of the Arrowhead is similar to what some experts consider to be the first projectile point shape used as an arrowhead in the Mojave Desert–the “Rose Springs” point, after the bow and arrow was introduced 1500 years ago.
Not to Flenniken however—that shape he said was also used for atlatl dart points that predated the arrowhead. In some parts of America the dart was used concurrently along with the bow and arrow up into the time of Euro-American contact.
For this reason archaeologists prefer the term “projectile point” rather than “arrowhead” since it cannot be assumed that a point was used as an atlatl dart or arrowhead. Flenniken explained that points were used over and over again and simply reworked if a tip or the “ears” or “tang” at the shoulder or base broke off. He likened projectile point reshaping to a No. 2 pencil. A prehistoric hunter would simply rework a point into a new shape. “Notches at the shoulder of the point had a dual purpose—for both hafting it to the shaft of an arrow but also to create a weak location where the point would break first. The tangs on the base of a dart or arrowhead make the point hard to pull out so it continues to cause damage when the game runs. What would be left of the point if it breaks at the notch is a triangular shape that could be refashioned above the break with new notches for a dart or arrow or worked into a lanceolate point for attachment to a thrusting spear.
“Have you ever seen what is referred to as a ‘Gary Point’? Flenniken asked. “These are a type of projectile point used for knives and thrusting spears in the southeastern part of North America, long before the bow and arrow came into vogue in the Americas, they are found back east—they look similar in shape as the San Bernardino ‘Arrowhead.’ When the bow and arrow was introduced, the same lithic reduction technology that was used to produce knives, spears and dart points was used to produce arrowheads. There are differences in size and exactly where the notches are located, but generally the same ‘biface’ technology was being used to produce the oldest spear points and the newest arrowheads—and this technology was passed down from generation to generation.”
Gary points are reported to be associated with artifacts dated 1000 to 4000 years ago.
According to Flenniken, there are numerous technologies, but the “biface technology” is one that was pervasive throughout the Holocene or post Ice Age in North America. “Actually the biface technology in general is very old world wide, well over a million years old,” Flenniken said. “It entered the Americas through Alaska from Siberia at the end of the Wurm glaciation. A variety of shapes were being produced for different purposes at the same time using the same technology. You cannot depend upon the shape of a projectile point to tell you how old a site is. You might get a thrusting spear which could be a leaf shaped lanceolate, along with a notched dart point and smaller arrowhead all in the same archeological site being used at the same time.
“The Aztecs used atlatls to defend themselves at the onslaught of the Conquistadors,” Flenniken continued. “Desoto was killed in Arkansas by the Tula Indians in 1541, killed by darts from an atlatl. His scribe discusses it in detail. The darts could probably penetrate armor.”
Flenniken, began “chipping stones” when he was six following the instructions in an old Boy Scout manual. He was recommended by his school teachers, then taken under the wing of local archaeologists working on archaeological “salvage” projects in Arkansas during the 1960s. He went on to college and received his PhD in archaeology at Washington State University, specializing in what was once a worldwide industry, the now dying art of stone projectile point production. So obscure was the field at the time he graduated that he knew more about the subject than his professors. They were learning from him, participating in Flenniken’s field school. He taught lithic technology to archaeology students at Washington State University from 1975 to 1986 and then was sent to Australia on a Fulbright scholarship to study aboriginal stone tool production and use where he spent two months in the field and taught at Sydney University. He then taught lithic technology throughout Brazil on a second Fulbright scholarship and later took over master flintknapper Don Crabtree’s technological field school.
The “biface” or double face technology is different than other technologies such as the prismatic core reduction technology used to produce the long obsidian blades found throughout Mesoamerica (prehistoric Mexico). There are thousands of flake stone reductions technologies that were used in North America, such as bipolar flaking and heat treatment. Flenniken looks at the waste flakes at an archaeological site and can decipher what type of technology was being used.
One type of waste flake that Flenniken looks for is that of the “channel” flake from the flute of a Clovis point. Clovis is a unique technology used only during a particular period of time, so it is a time sensitive cultural marker. The Clovis points with a flute or channel down the middle of the face about 1/3 of the way up from the base, is an example of a technology that only existed in north America during a certain period of time and are associated with deposits 10,000 to 13,000 years old.
“I looked in Russia and Siberia and others have also looked for evidence of the fluted point in Europe and Asia but fluted points simply have not been found there. The Clovis point is an American invention and one must be skilled to replicate it” Flenniken said.
Clovis points are made out of quartzite, jasper, cherts, chalcedony and glassy obsidian, are long lanceolate in outline and without notches. They are designed for use on a thrusting spear–a deadly weapon, according to Flenniken. He said that Paul S. Martin showed that Paleoindian hunters likely played a role in the extinction of large ice age mammals and by association they probably used the Clovis point.
A particular form of projectile point called the Lake Mojave point is named after a place in San Bernardino County. Pleistocene Lake Mojave for which it is named, includes the area surrounding Soda Lake, Baker and Zzyzx where the Bechtel Corporation currently proposes to install a massive solar plant threatening hundreds of acres of pristine habitat.
Lake Mojave points, first identified and described in 1967 by Dr. Claude Warren of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, In outline, the Lake Mojave points looks very similar to the Gary Point and the San Bernardino “Arrowhead” except that the stem at the bottom is much longer. Warren considered the Lake Mojave form are as old as the ancient 9,000 year old lake shoreline where they were found. Flenniken stresses that just because you find a point at one site and it is dated at a certain age, you cannot automatically assign that age to a point found elsewhere. “It is not morphology, it’s the total technological reduction assemblage that one must look at from a particular site,” he said.
Another very old point shape found in San Bernardino County is the Pinto Point. Archaeological materials reported to be associated with that form indicates that it was predominate around 7,000 years ago and persisted until about 4,000 years ago. These forms were named after the place that Archaeologists Elizabeth W. Crozer Campbell and William H. Campbell first found them in the Pinto Basin of Joshua Tree National Park, just south of our county line. A concave base rather than a protruding, long stem base, as seen on the Lake Mojave points, characterizes the Pinto point. Flenniken explains that this difference is more of an indication of how the points were being hafted (tied on to the shaft) rather than any indication of age or typological distinction.
Flenniken says that percussion flaking was used for the initial production and pressure flaking for the final product. Individual flakes could be taken off of a biface core to turn into points using pressure flaking for the finish work. The biface core could eventually become a projectile point as well. Biface cores were carried about and a flake was taken off as needed to produce a projectile point or any other cutting edge, knives, scrapers, etc.
Another form called the Elko point is also found in the Mojave Desert. They have an outline shape that looks very similar to a classic arrowhead but are actually dart points, so serve as a good example of why archaeologists use the all-encompassing term “projectile point” instead of “arrowhead.” Elko points are associated with archaeological deposits dating between 4,000 and 1,500 years old, so they are thought to predate the bow and arrow.
Flenniken understands the various technologies because he practices flintknapping himself. He uses the same biface technology to make both classic and eccentric forms which you can view on his website, AnachronisticArts.com.
Prior to the arrival of euro-American settlers when it became symbolic of San Bernardino Valley, the Arrowhead landmark was and continues to be recognized by the Native Americans in their local folklore and legend. The arrowhead is said to have been given by the Great Spirit to point the way to the hot spring below with its healing qualities. It is thus considered to be holy ground. The intriguingly, romantic version of the legend of the Arrowhead was published in the June 17, 1876 issue of the San Bernardino Weekly Times and can be found at the City of San Bernardino’s website at http://www.ci.san-bernardino.ca.us/about/history/the_arrowhead.asp.
Though many forest fires have blazed the area, the Arrowhead landmark has survived.
Upon occasion I have attempted to persuade the editor of the Sentinel to upgrade his newspaper’s logo to the use of the “Arrowhead” arguing that its imagery is associated with historic defensive weaponry used by sentinels down through the ages in San Bernardino County and that the current logo, the “Minuteman,” has become ideologically debased.
He typically resists saying that the county of San Bernardino already has laid claim to the Arrowhead icon and that there may be copyright violation threats.
I have now assisted him in jumping over this hurdle by producing an artistic rendering of the San Bernardino Arrowhead of my own. I did this by capturing a photo image of the Arrowhead, cutting it down the middle and taking the southeast side and doubling it back over to make for a perfectly uniform outline on both sides of the image. I then rotated the Arrowhead 180 degrees so that point is up and the base is on the bottom, which is the protocol for displaying projectile points in professional archaeological journals. Here it is:
By Ruth Musser-Lopez