Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Point Revenge Arrow

Point Revenge Arrow Reproduction
This is a reproduction of a Point Revenge, or pre-contact Innu arrow based on artifacts from Labrador.  The Innu people are alive and well and living in Labrador.  Archaeologically, the ancestors of the Innu left a material culture that Archaeologists call  "Point Revenge" or "late Labrador Recent Indian".  Their projectile points were corner-notched arrowheads, most commonly made from Ramah Chert.  If you want more information about the Recent Indian peoples who lived in Newfoundland and Labrador, I would refer you to these two informative blog posts from Inside Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology:

Point Revenge and Little Passage reproductions
What's interesting is that the archaeological recovered stone tools left by the ancestors of the Beothuk and the Innu were almost identical even though the two groups were historically quite different.  Take this arrow for example. When I make a Little Passage or Beothuk arrow, I start with a stone point and build the rest of the arrow around it.  I base the organic components on ethnographical observed Beothuk arrows.  I followed the same steps to make this Point Revenge arrow, except I used Innu arrows as the ethnographic reference.  Even though the projectile points are identical, the reconstructed arrows wind up looking quite different.

These are links to some of the arrows that I used as references for the Innu arrows - they are in the Ethnology Collection at The Rooms here in St. John's:

Stone, pitch, sinew, wood
I don't know the exact origin of these arrows and some aspects of their construction seem a little rough or unusual.  I suspect that they were made by an Innu person in the last century for someone from the south who wanted to collect examples of Innu arrows.  They feel like they were made by someone who had seen arrows and knew what they should look like, but didn't necessarily have a lot of experience with their construction.  Still, I don't have any reason to doubt the general size and shape of the arrows, the number of feathers used, the decoration, or the use of pitch as an adhesive, so I used those details in my reproduction.

Point Revenge, Beothuk, Copper Inuit
Even though a Point Revenge (pre-contact Innu) and Little Passage (Pre-contact Beothuk) stone arrowhead look identical, when you reconstruct the arrows based on the ethnographically available information they wind up looking very different.  The type of wood used is different: the Innu used tamarack or spruce for arrow shafts, while the Beothuk used pine.  The length of the arrows are different; the Innu arrows are described as being 24-30" long, while the Beothuk made longer 36" arrows.  The feathers are different; the Innu used three grey or white ptarmigan feathers, while the Beothuk used two goose feathers.  The decoration is different; the Innu decorated each end of the arrow with red paint, while the Beothuk covered the entire arrow with red ochre.

The shaft flattens toward the string nock
Aside from the projectile point, the only common treatment that I could see on both arrows is the flattened shape of the arrow shaft beneath the feathers and the shallow "V" or "U" shaped string nock.  Both groups would have tied their arrowheads and feathers in place and the Innu arrows show evidence of a light coloured pitch.  I don't know whether the Beothuk used pitch or not on their arrows, so I don't know if that is another similarity or another difference.  Likewise, the Innu arrows do not have the feathers glued down along the spine, just tied at both ends.  The drawings of Beothuk arrows suggest that the feathers may have been glued down to the shaft, but I can't say for certain.

Beothuk arrows and Innu arrows differ from each other in almost every way that an arrow can.  I think that the length of the arrows is especially significant.  The Innu arrows would be too short to make full advantage of the 6 foot long Beothuk bows and the oversized Beothuk arrows would be clumsily large in the Innu bows.
Arrows: Point Revenge/Innu (top) and Little Passage/Beothuk (bottom)

Side view of the hafted point
I'm not sure how to interpret this.  I don't know if I'm correct in assuming that all of the historic features of the arrows would have appeared on the pre-contact arrows.  Maybe the similarities in the lithic toolkits extended to all other aspects of the material culture and the Recent Indian arrows on the Island and in Labrador looked identical 1000 years ago.  Maybe they evolved along two separate lines since then from some sort of common arrow ancestor.  I'm not sure.

Ramah chert in grey and black
On this particular arrow, I used a coarse black chert.  This arrow was a paid commission and as much as I'd like to stay true to the Labrador Recent Indian preference for Ramah Chert, I still can't sell the stuff - so I went with this black chert because its comparable to the black version of Ramah Chert.  The shaft is made from tamarack, which I chose over spruce in this case because its colour gives it a slightly more antiqued look than bright white spruce.  I felt it matched the look of the ethnographic arrows a little better.  The arrow is about 27" long.  I used three strips of white feathers that I picked up on the barren grounds south of St. John's.  Ideally, these would be ptarmigan and although I don't know exactly what bird dropped them and its possible that they are ptarmigan, I kind of doubt it.  I used pitch for the glue on both the point and at each end of the feathers and tied them in place with sinew.  The pitch on the ethnographic arrows is light coloured, so I didn't add any charcoal to the gum.

Red paint; a memory of red glue?
I added red pigment to each end of the arrow shaft before tying the point and feathers on.  The Innu use bright red and blue paints on a lot of their objects.  I used red ochre mixed with oil for the base of the stain, although I did punch it up with a dash of red oil paint to brighten the ochre a bit.  The placement of the red paint seems decorative - if it has a special meaning I wouldn't want to guess what it might be.  Although, it is interesting that the red stain is applied in the same places that the arrow and feathers are tied down.  The archaeologist speaking at MUN this Friday is looking at the use of red ochre as an additive in adhesives used during the Middle Stone Age in Africa.  Ochre was used for a lot of things in Newfoundland, but I don't think that I've ever heard that it was mixed with pitch to make a better adhesive.  Still - IF it had been, then it would leave a red stain on each end of an arrow that would look very similar to the pattern of red paint on the ethnographic Innu arrows.  Its an interesting coincidence and maybe something to follow up on.

Photo Credits: Tim Rast


  1. The best thing about ptarmigan feathers is that ptarmigan are not migratory birds and hence are not covered by the international migratory bird treaty. They are practically the only feathers artists can use in their work here in Alaska (with grouse).

    And why don't people like Ramah chert. I think it is distinctive and way cool. When I dug out east (Maine and on Baffin Island) we'd occasionally find a piece and everyone would get very excited. I'd love something made out of it. I'd trade you some ptarmigan feathers! Patrick

  2. Yeah - I saw you guys overflowing with Ptarmigans a couple weeks ago when I was working on this and was pretty jealous. Now that I know I have a use for them I'll start collecting them, but this project came on kind of suddenly and I had to make do with what I had on hand.

    Re: Ramah Chert -- I should have said "not permitted to sell the stuff" rather than "Can't sell the stuff". There's certainly a market for it, but the supply that was once a trickle is now pretty much cut off. Its an archaeological site in a national park in a self governed Inuit Territory. I managed to get a few pieces to experiment with before the existence of the National Park and Nunatsiavut, but I promised the Provincial Museum, Archaeology Office and the archaeologists who gave me the rock that I wouldn't sell it.

  3. I'm glad that you're checking and saw the ptarmigan - and if you don't get enough on your own, that's one I can always help you with during ptarmigan hunting season August thru April.

    And funnily enough there is a chipped stone knife (ca 6000 BP) in our collections made of white with black/grey stripes sugar chert that has always made me think Ramah chert. How cool would that be - trans arctic exchange prior to anyone even being in the Canadian high arctic? But I seriously doubt that it is in fact Ramah chert.



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