Stone Tool Stories: Hafted spear and dart points

Stone armatures were hafted on the end of spear shafts by ca. 500,000 BP at the Kathu Pan site in South Africa, as suggested by the impact fractures on many of the points.  Hafted spear and dart points are well-documented from about 75,000 BP but, despite this exceptionally long history, spear and dart points with intact hafting rarely preserve in the archaeological record.

Macroblade NT ARPA donation

Macroblade Point

Macroblade with bees wax 1

Macroblade Point

Hafted spear, Arnhem Land

Stone-Tipped Spear

Historically, stone armatures were mounted on shafts either directly or via a foreshaft.   A foreshaft is a short section of wood, bone, or ivory that fits inside a socket in the end of the main shaft.  Various cane species were a popular material for main shafts because they are naturally hollow, allowing for insertion of the solid wood foreshaft.  A hunter could carry multiple replacement foreshafts for each main shaft in their hunting kit.

Stone points were mounted into a slot in the end of the foreshaft, usually supplemented with plant resin and/or sinew lashing.  Sinew was wrapped on while wet and, when dry, shrank tight around the point and shaft.  Many stone points were notched or stemmed to provide purchase for the lashing.  Resin was added over the lashing to strengthen the haft and to waterproof the sinew, which will grow loose when exposed to water.  Archaeologists experimenting with North American-style notched obsidian points claimed that, aside for used in binding a point to a foreshaft, deep notches served to weaken the point so it would break off inside the prey animal.

In Australia, dart and spear points were affixed to main shafts without an intervening foreshaft.  Shafts were rarely slotted, and the stone points were fastened using plant resin—particularly spinifex grass resin—or native bees wax.  Fibre or hair string was sometimes incorporated into the resin to give it added strength.  The hafting area was often decorated with ochre designs.  The high-quality hafting adhesives available in Australia meant that notches for lashing were unnecessary.

Points made in the Kimberley region of Australia were designed to break from their shafts inside the target animal, hastening their death.  Tiny quartz crystal dart points called nguni were encased in bees wax and were meant to detach inside their human victim upon impact.