Type:  Barbed and Tanged Arrowhead

Location: England



MoST ID: 5717

Pedestal Link: https://une.pedestal3d.com/r/vCL6JeI4ok

Model Author:  Mary-Anne Stone

This flint barbed-and-tanged arrowhead from England.  Arrowheads like this date to the Bell Beaker culture, ca. 4100-4500 BP.
The artefact is curated by the Australian Institute of Archaeology, catalogue no. IA24.265.

The relatively large flint arrowhead in this model is from England.  It was made by well-executed pressure flaking, perhaps with a preceding percussion-thinning stage.  The ends of the barbs are flat and slant outwards.  The notches are relatively wide, resulting in an unusually narrow tang.  The length of the tang, slanted barbs, and careful workmanship suggest that the arrowhead was made towards the end of the Bell Beaker period.

During the Mesolithic period, Britain was connected to continental Europe by the land mass known as ‘Doggerland’.  Doggerland flooded ca. 8200-8500 years ago, isolating the population there, who continued subsisting on hunting and gathering until the arrival of Neolithic farmers from Europe ca. 6000 BP, about 1000 years after they spread across Europe.  A 2019 analysis of ancient DNA suggest these people were related to people in Iberia, who themselves came into Europe around the Mediterranean coast from a hinterland on the Aegean Sea.  The Mesolithic hunter-gatherers were genetically replaced by these newcomers.  A second wave of immigrants arrived ca. 4000-4500 BP, called the Bell Beaker culture, with DNA ancestry related to Yamnaya pastoralists who invaded Europe from the Western Steppe.  Yamnaya ancestry composed about 90% of the genetic profile of subsequent populations in Britain ‘within a few hundred years’ after their arrival.  The arrival of the Bell Beaker culture in Britain signals the beginning of the Bronze Age and the end of the Neolithic.

Bifacial pressure-flaked arrowheads were a common aspect of bow-and-arrow technology during the Bell Beaker period.  These arrowheads included hollow-based and notched forms.  Notches were made into the base of the arrowhead, with a tang between them and shoulders, or ‘barbs’, to either side.  The styles of the barbs and tangs changed through time.  The ends of the barbs range from curved, to flat, to flat and slanted inward or outward.  The ends of the tangs range from curved, to flat, to pointed.  These attributes combine in different ways.  The earliest barbed-and-tanged points, from the Bell Beaker culture, tend to be stylistically amorphous compared to later variants, and are less finely made.  In the Bronze Age, exceptionally skilled pressure flaking was used to make arrowheads with systematically-produced bases and, often, exceptionally long tangs.

The researcher Clément Nicolas conducted a comprehensive study of 1375 arrowheads found interred in 231 Bell Beaker and Bronze Age graves.  He suggested that the burial arrowheads were symbolically associated with warfare rather than hunting.  The arrowheads may have marked the social role as status of the individuals as warriors.  Most arrowheads were interred in male graves, although female graves also included arrowheads and archery-related artefacts.  The earlier, less well-made points were probably made by the warriors themselves, but specialist flintknappers made the exceptional Bronze Age arrowheads, which are only found in graves.  They were buried as clusters of arrows in quivers or in oak boxes.  The workmanship and presumed value of these Bronze Age arrowheads might mean they were sacred objects made for display by high-ranking chiefs.  Arrowheads found in non-burial, domestic contexts—and presumably used mostly in hunting—are more variable in shape.


Bell Beaker arrowheads interred with the ‘Amesbury Archer’ in England, ca. 4300 BP (Nicolas 2019)


Arrowheads from Bronze Age burials in Brittany, France (Nicolas 2019)

Changes in arrowhead styles from the Bell Beaker through the Bronze Age (Nicolas 2017)