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 .
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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