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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Harpoon Stone Tips and Sea Mammal Hunting on the Oregon and Northern California Coasts


In the interior western United States, archaeologists have sometimes sought to determine whether projectile points were used with atlatl darts or with arrows by analyzing specimens with respect to variation in neck width (Thomas 1978; Corliss 1980). Such an approach represents use of a morphometric variable, often in lieu of impact damage (Bergman and Newcomer 1983; Odell and Cowan 1986) or edge damage (papers in Hayden 1979). Damage is often not present. Considerations of size, shape, bilateral symmetry, basically triangular shape, and ends that may be pointed, notched, or stemmed, as well as ethnographic information alone often lead to the categorizing of a group of artifacts as "projectile points." Resulting classifications are relevant to functional and thus adaptational concerns and also to temporal concerns because of the late Holocene (ca. 2,500 to 1,500 B.P.) shift from the atlatl and dart or spear to the bow and arrow. The dating of this transition is unclear. Hanes (1977) believed it occurred ca. 2,500 B.P. in southeastern Oregon; Pettigrew (1981) placed it ca. 1,700 B.P. in northwestern Oregon.

Gould (1966) addressed a similar problem of assigning projectile points to specific functional categories that may ultimately prove temporally sensitive. He was working on the coast of northern California with mostly late prehistoric (post-1,000 B.P.) materials thought to post-date the transition from atlatl and dart to bow and arrow. Because his materials were from a coastal site, the possibility that some stone projectile points were used on arrows while others were used on harpoons bad to be considered. While Gould (1977:161) later reported that his distinction of the two functional categories was made "with size, not shape, as the main criterion," in this paper we follow his original discussion (Gould 1966) as it is more detailed.

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