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ISM System :Projectile Points Collection: Introduction
What are projectile points?
What Types of Points Are There?
What are points made from?
How are points made?
How were points used?
Using this Reference Collection
Identification Key
Image Gallery


photograph of atlatl thrower bronze sculpture Dawn. The sun peaks over the horizon and casts its light on an open field at the edge of a forest. In the shadow of a shrub, a white-tailed deer nervously nibbles on tender branches. A concealed hunter slowly raises his bow, aims, and releases the drawstring. The arrow flies toward its target, but the deer, always wary, darts off at the snap of the bowstring. The arrow strikes a limb. The tip of point snaps off. The hunter retrieves the arrow, discards the point and puts the shaft into his quiver. When he returns to camp, he fastens another point to the arrow shaft.

Image of an Arrow Point
A thousand years later, a farmer cultivates corn. From the cab of his tractor, he spots a white, pointed stone. Upon inspection, it looks like a broken arrowhead, and he wonders: Who made it and when, and how did it end up at this place?

It is difficult to know how many prehistoric projectile points — spear points, dart points, and arrow points — have been found in Illinois fields, but it's probably more than a million. Each point is a piece of the past, a piece that contributes to our understanding of the 12,000 years of Native American history prior to the arrival of Europeans in the seventeenth century.

Many, perhaps most, of the points found throughout the state have yet to be identified. Almost every month a person arrives at the Illinois State Museum with a projectile point, often a collection of points, and asks: How old is this? Who made it? What was it used for?

To provide possible answers to these questions, and more, we have developed this Web presentation on projectile points. It contains a database of type points from the Museum's collection, a photo gallery of these points, and a simple approach to the identification of some projectile points commonly found in Illinois. In addition to providing an interactive identification key, we offer answers to basic questions about projectile points, and we have compiled a bibliography of other resources for projectile point identification.

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