Hollow based projectile point from the Fayum A Neolithic

Fayum aggsbach 3

This is a hollow based projectile point from the Fayum A Neolithic in Northern Egypt. Whether these arrowheads were attached to wooden shafts or used in spears
is difficult to confirm, but representations of men drawing bows can be seen on
jars from the early Predynastic Period (ca. 3,6 k.a. BC). The earliest hollow based points appear in the Bashendi A layers at Dakhleh (5,7-5, k.a. BC; McDonald 1999).  They are also  present at Merimde at the same time they appear in the Fayum Neolithic A (5, 2-4 k.a. BC; Rizkana and Seeher 1988). They continue until Badarian and Naqada I times (4-3, 5 k.a. BC). Although they are often called ‘Fayum Points’ they also occur in Upper Egypt, for example at Mostagedda (Brunton 1937) and Badari (Brunton 1928). It is unclear if they continue until Naqada II times (3,5-3,1 k.a. BC). Other sites where concave base arrowheads have been found include: Armant (Mond and Myers 1937), Hemamieh (Brunton and Caton-Thompson 1928) and Naqada (Petrie 1896 ). Neolithic types tend to be more finely made than the Predynastic types (Gilbert 2004). At Merimde Predynastic stouter ones were earlier than narrow long ones (Rizkana and Seeher 1988).

Sites of the Fayum A Neolithic are about 5, 2-4 k.a. BC are mostly represent camps located at an ancient lakeshore. At Kom W, which is the largest known settlement so far , almost no remains of buildings were found but about 248 “fire-holes”, which the excavators interpreted as hearths. Many grain silos were found. There are many animals bone – including domestic animals – attested, but it is not clear whether they were already fully domesticated. Hunting large and dangerous animals and fishing were very important. 

Stone artifacts of the Fayum Neolithic are based on two main technologies: the production of flakes from simple cores with some of the flakes subsequently being shaped into tools, and the manufacture of tools by bifacial flaking. During earlier surveys there was certainly a bias towards an exaggerated number of bifacial tools, anyhow their presence remain to be explained.  The main classes of bifacial implements are polished and flaked axes, knifes and symmetrical leaf-shaped artifacts, bifacial sickle blades, and an enormous diversity of concave often hollow-based projectile points. The projectile points have been found among the bones of a hippopotamus and an alleged elephant respectively (Caton- Thompson and Gardner 1934). 

These findings clearly indicate at what kinds of target animals such projectiles were shot. Experimental work has demonstrated that bifacially-retouched thin projectile points penetrated more deeply into animal bodies than informal flake points did, and are less likely to bounce off a target animal especially if hafted onto shafts (Odell and Cowan 1986). It is therefore probable that compared with microlithic or flake equivalents, large bifacial projectile points proved their better killing power and higher reliability when they were used for hippopotamus and crocodile, and thus were selected for.The purpose of the long, wing-like tangs of this hollow type of projectile points has been questioned, as they are likely to snap off after impact. This means that they are likely a single use item, but it also has implications for hunting and warfare. The shattered ends could embed in the flesh, enhancing the damage to the target. 

Bifacial projectile points are objects, worked on both sides that must be roughly symmetrical. This creates a special challenge for this shape, as the delicate tangs must remain in the same plane and have the same length and width, as the deep central hollow is created. The body of the arrowhead is covered with minute retouches where the flint has been carefully taken off by pressure flaking. The creation of such an implement represents a time-consuming choice, rather than a necessity. The shape certainly reflects a culturally important message. Thus, it may be possible to argue that functional benefits (impact fracture) were entwined with prestige factors (time and material quality) and perhaps aesthetic qualities ( M. Mangum 2008).

Suggested Reading: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/handle/1887/15339

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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3 Responses to Hollow based projectile point from the Fayum A Neolithic

  1. J. T. says:

    This type of an arrowhead is found throughout the bronze age in Europe and since it so distinctive, I wonder whether there was some cultural influence. As to its function, my understanding is that this was a war point: hafting was looser than normal, ensuring the point would remain in place if the arrow was removed from the wound.

  2. John Byrd says:

    I have one group of Fayam Neolithic A artifacts and included in this group are about 9 projectile points. The size and especially the thickness makes it highly unlikely these were arrow points. It is much more likely they were used with a javelin or thrusting spear. Elephants are still killed today with a spear thrust into the belly. The design of the actual projectile point would allow it to seat firmly into the slotted shaft but remain lodged in the quarry if the shaft were removed.

  3. Katzman says:

    They are similar but different compared to the European early Bronze Age arrowheads: https://www.sidestone.com/books/catalogue-fleches-de-pouvoir-a-l-aube-de-la-metallurgie

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