This arrowhead fetish was made in the recent past, with a fork tine affixed using leather. A fetish is an object believed to have magical powers or to be inhabited by a spirit. The fork tine was affixed as a gift to the spirit within the arrowhead.
The object in this model is not a Zuñi fetish, which always represent animals, but is instead an arrowhead with an offering affixed with a leather thong. This suggests that the artisan who made the offering was invoking the spirit of the arrowhead—perhaps in reference to the lighting arrow or stone war knife in the Zuñi foundation story—for ritual purposes. The thick stone point was percussion-flaked by a person with rudimentary stone-flaking skills. Knowledge of flintknapping techniques in the southwestern US had declined by the 1910s. The metal offering tied to the fetish is the tine from a nickel-based fork. Nickel cutlery decreased in use from the 1950-1960 in favour of stainless steel cutlery. This suggests that this fetish was made after ca. 1920 but before ca. 1960.
The Zuñi people of the southwestern US are famous for their tradition of fetish-carving, as documented by the anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing in 1881. Traditionally, Zuñi people prized natural stones that resembled animals, and these ‘solidified’ manifestations of animals were seen to possess spirits that could benefit the finder. These benefits were increased by strategic carving that enhanced the object’s attributes and by attaching gifts to honour and nourish the spirit within. Two types of fetishes occurred historically among the Zuñi: minimally modified stones and elaborately carved stones. Zuñi stone-carvers continue today the tradition of making elaborately carved fetish animals.
In the Zuñi foundation story, recounted in Cushing’s book on fetishes, the Sun-Father created two children on earth and endowed them with a bow (the rainbow), arrows (lightning), a shield composed of a net of cords across a wood hoop, and a magic war knife made of stone, which was affixed to the centre of the shield. The stone knife was used by the children to carve the portals for humans to move between subterranean worlds. Once the humans emerged onto the earth’s surface, lightning arrows were used to subdue the original animals—which were dangerous to people—by changing them to stone. This process shrivelled and distorted the animals, creating the fetish stones. The spirits inside the fetish stones continue to have magic influence over the animals they resemble. Zuñi fetishes are carvings of animals, and a stone arrowhead is a traditional offering tied to the fetish which invokes the war knife and lightning arrow traditions. Originally these arrowheads were made by pressure-flaking, but abalone shell representations of arrowheads were also used. In modern fetishes, representations carved with lapidary tools from shell or stone have supplanted pressure-flaked arrowheads.