We probably all have an “arrowhead” or two kicking around in a drawer or shoebox tucked somewhere into the back of a closet. I remember finding points similar to the ones depicted here while picking butterbeans and tomatoes in the family garden when I was a child. Now that I am a full-blown archaeologist, I have been thoroughly trained to call them “points” rather than “arrowheads” (because some of them were affixed to spears and knives rather than arrows). Another thing that I have learned is that the sharpened edges of points and other cutting tools can be used to help reconstruct the diet and the environment of the peoples that made and used them.
The Indian Creek V Site (18PR94) in Prince George’s County, Maryland dates to what archaeologists call the Archaic Period (9500 B.C. – 1250 B.C.). Excavations there revealed that Maryland Indians returned to the site regularly over thousands of years to obtain plants from the surrounding floodplains and wetlands. A peat bog on the site preserved the largest collection of Archaic plant remains yet found in the region, of great value in reconstructing past environments (LeeDecker and Koldehoff 1991). An assemblage of seeds, pieces of nutshell, and small charred wood fragments was recovered at the Indian Creek V Site. Over 10,000 fragments from 63 different plant species represented a wide variety of fruit, tubers, starchy seeds, nuts, shoots, and leaves. These plants would have been used for food and also as medicines, smoking material, and insect repellant. In addition, a pollen core from a nearby peat deposit provided a vegetation record for the terminal Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, allowing a detailed environmental reconstruction.
Because the soil at the Indian Creek V Site was highly acidic, all of the animal bones from food remains had long since disintegrated, leaving none for the archaeologists to recover. But, amazingly, there was another route to answering the question about the meat diet of the people who used the Indian Creek V Site. Archaeologists have determined that sometimes blood residues are still present along the edges of stone tools—even ones thousands of years old like the points from Indian Creek. Specialized tests indicated that there were blood residues on the site’s points and other stone tools. Two types of residue analysis were conducted, showing the presence of blood on 49 out of 546 tools. Family level testing on those 49 tools suggested that deer, elk, and various small game animals were being hunted at Indian Creek. The plant remains, pollen core and the animal blood residue were all valuable in helping archaeologists reconstruct the environment at the site for almost 8,000 years.
LeeDecker, Charles H. and Brad Koldehoff. 1991 Excavation of the Indian Creek V Site (18PR94), Prince George’s County, Maryland. Report prepared for Wallace Roberts & Todd and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority by the Cultural Resource Group, Louis Berger & Associates, Inc., Washington, DC.