Why Wasn’t the Ceramic Arrowhead Invented?

Author(s): Michelle Bebber; Michael Wilson

Year: 2018


In biology the concept of theoretical morphology has been used as a heuristic device for better understanding the evolutionary trajectories of organisms. Theoretical morphology proceeds by creating and examining hypothetical specimens not actually found in nature. So instead of asking "why does feature X exist", a theoretical morphological approach asks "why doesn’t feature Y exist?". Here, we use this approach to address the question of why ceramic technology did not evolve to replace stone technology with respect to hunting weapon tips (spear points, atlatl dart tips, arrowheads). In other words: why didn’t the ceramic projectile point emerge? Clay is a readily available, economically efficient, and easily workable raw material. Likewise, objects made out of fired clay are extremely hard, sharp, and generally durable. We hypothesized that there was perhaps a functional constraint such that ceramic hunting weapon tips cannot perform as effectively as stone ones. We conducted an archaeological experiment using stone and ceramic replicas, and assessed point penetrability and durability. The results of this study will have implications for our understanding of prehistoric weaponry evolution.

Cite this Record

Why Wasn’t the Ceramic Arrowhead Invented?. Michelle Bebber, Michael Wilson. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442858)

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Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 18706