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Artifact recovered from the Williams Lake area and believed to be an arrowhead from the early Nesikep period.          Source: Sugar Cane Archeology

6,000-year-old ‘Arrowhead’ Found in British Columbia


An ancient pointed chert stone dating to the early Nesikep period is believed to be the oldest arrowhead ever recovered in the Williams Lake area. But is this interpretation accurate?

Lake Williams is a city in the central interior of British Columbia, Canada, in the central part of a region known as the Cariboo. Ancient projectiles dating back several millennia have been removed from large piles of soil that were created while doing drainage works after a landslide that occurred in the area last year. 

A team of researchers from Sugar Cane Archeology installed a power screen plant to mechanically sift through the piles of dirt looking for lost archaeological treasures from a time when the mid-Fraser River area was occupied by large, First Nations villages. The discoveries included an object the researchers claim is an arrowhead from the Nesikep period.

The WLIB rented a power screening plant to process soil poles when COVID-19 restrictions put community archaeology day on hold. (Sugar Cane Archeology)

The WLIB rented a power screening plant to process soil piles when COVID-19 restrictions put community archaeology day on hold. ( Sugar Cane Archeology )

Unearthing 6,000-Year-Old Survival Tools

Located at the south end of Williams Lake, the current community of Sugar Cane is home to about 350, and over 3000 artifacts had already been discovered during the 2016-2019 Highway 97 four planning project. Sugar Cane Archaeology archaeologist, Whitney Spearing, recently presented three ancient artifacts, including the controversial “arrowhead” which she said is from the Nesikep period, between 7,500 to 6,000 BP (before present).

According to an article in the Williams Lake Tribune the archaeologist explained that the alleged arrowhead was used as a projectile weapon to hunt small mammals or birds. Finding a Nesikep point is like “finding a needle in a haystack,” explained Spearing. “To my knowledge there is no other early Nesikep site in the Williams Lake area.” She went on to explain that within ancient history this time period is associated with the development of a unique, cultural system that used micro-blades and notched projectile points.

Team inspects an artifact found on site while processing soil piles at Williams Lake. (Sugar Cane Archeology)

Team inspects an artifact found on site while processing soil piles at Williams Lake. ( Sugar Cane Archeology )

A $25K Investment Countered COVID-19 Threat to Artifacts

The archaeologist, Spearing, explained that COVID-19 restrictions scuppered the team's original plan to host a community archaeology day in which local elders and youths were set to assist in screening the piles of dirt for artifacts. When COVID-19 struck, the Williams Lake Indian Band (WLIB), who are members of the Secwepemc Nation (Shuswap people), were unwilling to leave the artifacts in dirt piles exposed to the environment. In a race against time , they provided $25,000 to rent a power screening plant for one week to process the soil piles.

The power screening plant found two additional artifacts: a second projectile point from the Shuswap period of between 3,500 and 2,400 BP, and a third point from the Kamloops period between 1,200 and 200 BP. Now that the piles of earth have been excavated, and all of the ancient artifacts removed, the soil piles will now be leveled and hydro-seeded. All of the artifacts, which include roughly 3,200 archaeological pieces discovered last year, are planned for exhibition at the Williams Lake Indian Band administration offices at Sugar Cane, which are under currently construction.

Challenging Archaeological Interpretations of Artifacts Found at Williams Lake

But have these archaeologists got it right? If it is an arrowhead, it belongs to one heck of an arrow.

Hafted lithic implements were constructed to fit into the media that were pre-made to hold them. For example, every ancient stone arrowhead and atlatl point was specifically shaped to fit the dimensions of an already existent arrow shaft, or atlatl dart. Furthermore, every hafted stone knife ever made was specifically made to fit the dimensions of a short handle that was already in existence: the handle was always made first.

The width of the notch on this ancient blade is greater than the archaeologist’s thumb holding it in the photograph, which itself is much wider than an arrow shaft. If this had indeed been attached to an arrow, then the bow must have been over three meters (10 feet) high and a thick braided rope would have been needed to launch such a massive arrow. One thing archaeologists generally agree on is that such mechanical devices , or war machines , were not invented until the early medieval period in Europe. Not only does this suggest that this artifact isn't an arrowhead, but it is also much too wide to have been an atlatl point. So what is it?

Following this line of thinking, and possibly stating the obvious, the object was most probably the point of a dagger or spear, the handle of which has long since rotted away. The tool, or weapon, was probably designed like a modern Stanley blade with a reusable handle, where you snap off dull blades and bind on new sharper points.

So what do we think, is this really an arrowhead?

Top image: Artifact recovered from the Williams Lake area and believed to be an arrowhead from the early Nesikep period.          Source: Sugar Cane Archeology

By Ashley Cowie



Yes, Ashley Cowie, it really is an arrowhead.  Lithics is obviously not your strong point.  Many types of arrowheads have bases that are wider than then arrow or atlatl shaft to which they will be attached.  Most, as the example you question, are notched to allow the sinew to be wrapped on without interfering with the cutting edge of the point.  There are a number of un-notched, simple triangle points as well, whose makers either used only pitch/birth tar adhesive or didn't feel the sinew wrapped over the (ground) edge would materially affect penetration.  They also have wide bases.  A number of examples can be found here: Now, where did you come up with the idea that "every" stone implement (that was intended to be hafted) was "always" made only

after whatever it was intended to be hafted into was already made?  Consider, for starters, that you are claiming to know what people did 6000 years ago; what people always did, 6000 years ago.  That time period is called prehistoric for a reason.  Next, there have been numerous caches discovered containing a multitude of unused points (many of the points pictured in the above link came from caches) which suggests rather strongly they were made for future rather than immediate use.  You could have meant that the tool maker knew in advance exactly what the tool would be fitted to.  After all, many designs were used by the same peoples for centuries with very little variation so point after point would have been the same.  You could have meant that, but the statement "...the handle was always made first" belies that probability.  If you can back those assertions up, I would very much like to read your source material. 


Aleksa Vučković's picture


So what??

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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