Getting to the Point

Arrowheads at Stix and Leaves Pueblo


Bruce Bradley

Primitive Tech Enterprises, Inc.

Cortez, Colorado

Indian Artifact Magazine Vol. 20-1


I have had the great privilege of being in charge of research at a Pueblo I through Pueblo II site in southwestern Colorado for the past three years. The site, 5MT11555, is privately owned and all of the work has been sponsored by the land owners, Nick and Anh Fergis. Although their real love is finding arrowheads, they recognize the importance of what can be learned through archaeology, and have committed themselves to sponsoring professional research at the site. If I were to select any type of site to find arrowheads, it probably wouldn't be an Anasazi Pueblo. They are notorious for not containing many projectile points. Happily, this is not the case at Stix and Leaves Pueblo, located not far from Cortez, Colorado. Our finds so far are summarized here.

When we began our work in 1998, we completely excavated a kiva and the adjacent rooms and courtyard area. From the very beginning we found arrowheads and evidence of their manufacture. Since then, we have excavated a Pueblo II room block containing 26 rooms, two associated pithouses, two and a half round, masonry-lined kivas and a huge masonry-lined rectangular kiva (Figure 1) . We have also completely excavated the courtyard areas and features between the rooms and kivas. Below this room block we encountered an earlier set of Pueblo I masonry rooms.

All but one of the kivas and pithouses were burned, yielding large numbers of tree-ring samples from which dates have been obtained. It shows that there were three sequential occupations, one between A.D. 850 and 875, the second between A.D. 949 and about 970, and the third beginning at A. D. 1054. It is tempting to think of the site as having been lived in for 220+ years, but our evidence indicates that each use only lasted about a generation, or 20 years. This means that the village was unoccupied nearly two thirds of the time.

Projectile Points

Everywhere we excavated, we encountered evidence of projectile points; manufacture, use, discard, and even collecting. There are dart points from Middle and Late Archaic, Basketmaker II, as well as arrowheads from Basketmaker III (Figure 2). These are all from times before the Pueblo was established. These earlier points are mostly broken and none seem to have been resharpened for reuse as points. But, one and possibly two have been renotched for use as pendants (Figure 2a).

The first points that we find that are clearly associated with the use of the village are of two varieties. We have found several dart points <(Figure 3a) that on first inspection might be classified as Archaic. However, I have carefully gone through a lot of site reports on Archaic sites in the Four Corners area, and have found none of these points. The form does occur at other Pueblo I sites, often in direct contact with structure floors, so I am convinced that dart points were being made and used during Late Pueblo I between A.D. 850 and 875. This is curious because dart points, and evidently the atlatl, are not found in the preceding Basketmaker III times. Was the atlatl reintroduced after being abandoned as a weapon? Or could it be that the Pueblo I people were a different group that had retained its use and moved into the area?

The second point style is a tanged arrowhead (Figure 3b). Many of these points are beautifully made and they are clearly associated with late Pueblo I deposits and structures. They were made in two different ways. Some were initially formed by controlled percussion flaking while others were made with only pressure flaking. We have a few arrow points that look to be stylistically between the tanged Pueblo I type and the subsequent early Pueblo II (A.D. 925-1040) corner notched style (Figure 4). This could simply be the result of flaking mistakes rather than a true transitional style.

Early Pueblo II points were also made using both percussion and pressure techniques and there seems to be no change in the technology. The form did, however, change significantly. Where the Pueblo I tanged points have concave sides, flaring ears, and straight to contracting stems, the early Pueblo II points have slightly convex sides, convex to straight bases, and deep narrow corner notches (Figure 5a). Although not seen on all specimens, the narrow notches frequently expand inward, and they are sometimes even slightly curved. The best pieces are magnificent and, as an accomplished flint knapper, it is hard for me to imagine how the notches were made. We have found antler pressure flakers and even some that look like they may have been notching tools, but none could have been used to make these deep narrow notches.

As time went on and we get to what is called mid-Pueblo II (A.D. 1040-1100), the points become narrower the bases more variable, and the corner notches relatively wider and shallower (Figure 5b). By the late 1050s there is a distinctive substyle that has an almost pointed basal convexity, making the indentations fall between corner and side notches (Figure 5c). To be sure, quite a few of the points can only be classified as general Pueblo II because they are simply corner notched and lack the distinctive characteristics of the early and mid varieties. Given enough points, it is possible to see a general continuum in corner notched forms.


Of particular interest to me is the large assemblage of Pueblo I and Pueblo II point production failure and discard pieces at Stix and Leaves Pueblo. Two methods were used: 1) percussion shaping and thinning followed by pressure retouch (Figure 6); and 2) pressure shaping of a thin flake (Figure 7). Percussion flaking could either have been by hand-held direct percussion or indirect percussion. Platforms were made by beveling an edge, but grinding and individual platform preparation are rare or absent. This flaking usually used a form of diving flakes that ended in hinge or step fractures near the middle of the preform. The hinges were then picked off by the same sort of flakes struck from the opposing edge. Sometimes this process was unsuccessful and a preform would be rejected because of stacking. All points were finished with pressure flaking. Although it seems strange to me that such small delicate points would be shaped by percussion, the evidence is very clear.

The pressure method started with a thin straight flake. An edge was beveled to form a platform and shaping and thinning progressed in a selective sequence. It is common for some of the original flake surfaces to remain on finished points.

All stages of manufacture from the simple platform edge trimming on a flake to perverse fractures while notching are present, as well as typical examples of flaking errors (Figure 8). In fact my favorite find so far was a tight cluster of small flakes in the fill of a room. We carefully collected all of the dirt around the cluster and washed it through a window screen. What we had left was a nice collection of small flakes, all of the same local white Dakota quartzite, and both ends of an early Pueblo II arrowhead (Figure 9). It had broken during the first notch attempt. Curiously, if one looks closely at the point, when it broke, the notch was already past the midpoint. Even if it hadn't broken, it wouldn't have been possible to notch the other corner as deeply without intersecting the first notch! It looks like a case of "this is going so well I can't believe it", until the fatal pressure was applied. The small flakes were clearly the remnants of the flakes removed during the points shaping, and most are percussion flakes. It is also apparent that the flaking had been done on a piece of leather or mat and the products carefully discarded in a tight cluster in a partly filled room, or possibly on the roof. The compact nature of the flakes may indicate they were in a small pouch or bag. We have also recovered a number of unfinished pieces that do not exhibit any apparent reason for not being finished. Three even have one corner notch, seemingly lost or discarded before the second notch was made.

Stones used for making the points at Stix and Leaves Pueblo were both local and non-local. Detailed analysis of the flakes has not been done but it looks like the stone type ratios will be similar to the points and preforms. About 60% of the pieces were made from locally available stone (within 20 km or so) with Brushy Basin chert and Dakota quartzite dominating. The non-local stone were coming from a number of sources including the distinctive orange chalcedony from the Chuska Mountains on the Arizona-New Mexico border to the south. We also have a lot of chalcedony, agate, and jasper from southeastern Utah, petrified wood from northwestern New Mexico, and obsidian. The obsidian probably comes from the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, but this hasn't yet been verified by trace element analysis. It is possible that some of the points made from non-local stones were brought to the site as points, but the presence of flakes and preforms of most of the stones indicates that the stones were being brought to the site to be worked.

Heat treatment of some of the stones is also clearly present, as seen especially on broken preforms. This pre-flaking treatment was being done mostly on the Utah chalcedonies and agates, but is also evident on a yellow jasper (that turns red on heating).

Flaking Tools

A number of bone and antler tools have been recovered in our excavations that were probably flaking tools. There are two small antler lozenges that may have been used as punches for indirect percussion (Figure 10). One of these exhibits end splintering that is consistent with this type of use. We have also recovered antler tine pressure flakers (Figure 11), and possibly an antler baton.


A number of things are being learned about early Pueblo projectile point manufacturing from the excavations at Stix and Leaves Pueblo:

1) points were being made during all of the occupations at the site;

2) both percussion and pressure techniques were employed;

3) non-local stones were being brought to the site from many surrounding areas;

4) heat treatment was sometimes being used;

5) Pueblo I people were making and using dart and arrow points;

6) point forms generally conform to the already described types, but excellent context and dating has allowed a refinement so that some early and mid-Pueblo II points can be distinguished; and

7) like many other Pueblo people, the inhabitants of Stix and Leaves Pueblo collected old points.

Another observation that seems important to me is the fact that projectile points were being made at the site during all three occupations, even though there were times when the site wasn't occupied. This is in sharp contrast to almost all of the other pueblos in the region where points are scarce and there is little or no evidence of manufacture. Why is this? If, as the evidence seems to indicate, Stix and Leaves Pueblo was the focus of arrowhead making, does this indicate a village level specialization? If it does, we will have to seriously reevaluate our concept of general village self-reliance and community autonomy, and perhaps even the complexity of social organization of early Pueblo society in the Four Corners region of the Southwest.

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