Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 505-A   November 3, 1973
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Chicago was a crossroad for the Indians, and from time to time various tribes had villages here. They traveled and hunted over every foot of Chicagoland. This used to be rich territory for finding arrowheads, spearheads, stone axes and other relics. They are still found once in a while, especially on plowed ground, and just the other day we picked up a perfect arrowhead on a hillside in the Palos forest preserves .

Before the white man came the Indians were Stone Age people with weapons and implements made of stone, bone, shells and wood. In obtaining the desired materials -- as by quarrying stone -- the red men were amazingly industrious; in fashioning them they were amazingly ingenious, skillful and patient. The arrowhead was a notable example. In the Dakotas (Sioux) language it was called wan'hi', meaning "tooth of the arrow", and it really was a sharp stone fang which would wound and kill at a considerable distance. The Indian's chief weapon was the bow and arrow.

An arrow maker, always a man, was a highly respected craftsman. Each arrow must be perfectly straight, rigid, expertly feathered, with a suitable point or head cleverly attached. The making of a sharp symmetrical arrowhead from a rough "blank" of stone-was an art. The handiwork was tedious and delicate. In some tribes this finishing -- by chipping and flaking -- was done by old fellows who had their days as hunters and warriors.

Arrowheads were made mostly from rocks having a glassy or a fine- grained structure because the flakes shaped like one-half of a little clam shell could be chipped or pressed off easily. The Indians searched far, and did a lot of trading with other tribes, to get good stone. Obsidian or volcanic glass was best of all but obtainable only in such places as the Yellowstone Park region. The plains tribes traveled hundreds of miles to get this "black ice. " Next best were the fine- grained silicates such as hornstone, chalcedony, agate, jasper, and especially, flint. This dark gray or black rock was found in southern Illinois, Indiana and the Ozarks but the principal quarry was in Ohio, about 40 miles east of Columbus, and this was a "peace grounds " which all tribes could visit.

In the Chicago region, some arrowhead materials were found in glacial deposits and along the lake shore but, mostly, the Indians quarried chert, an impure flintlike rock, which occurred as lens-shaped lumps in the limestone cliffs and outcroppings.

Arrowheads were usually made at or near the village site, rather than at the quarry, after the chunks of rock had been buried for quite a while in moist earth to "temper" them -- make them work more easily. Each chunk was reduced in size and shape into one or more rough blanks by hammering it with another stone and by using a chisel made of stone, bone, or an antler. This required skill: each blow had to be of the proper force and in the proper direction.

In shaping a blank it was placed on the palm of one hand -- which was protected by a piece of leather -- near the base of the thumb and firmly held there by the four fingers. The other hand held the flaking tool: a prong from a deer's antler or a sharpened bone. By applying spasmodic pressure on the bottom side of the blank, flakes were removed until that side was beveled. Then it was turned over and beveled on the other side. The final sharpening was accomplished by applying lighter "rolling" pressures at the edges of the arrowhead to remove tiny flakes, or by using crude pincers of bone.

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