5 Surprising Facts About Arrowheads


My interest in primitive weapons — essential lore for any sci-fi/fantasy writer — began when I first found arrowheads in the freshly plowed fields on the tobacco farm where I grew up. From my first encounter with them, these amazing artifacts exerted a hypnotic fascination over me. After all, they were survivors from a past unimaginably different from my own world. They were weapons that were essential for survival, and at the same time, beautiful works of art.

Bookish kid that I was, I absorbed every field guide to North American archaeology the High Point Library had. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years:

1. They’re not all “arrowheads.”

Although we tend to associate American Indians with the bow and arrow, they didn’t develop that weapon until about 500 AD. In fact, “arrowheads” or, as archaeologists prefer, “projectile points,” tend to be quite small. And a hickory bow couldn’t generate the potential energy required to kill a bear or cougar — much less a mastodon.


Larger game required a powerful weapon, and the atlatl fits the bill. North Carolina’s Sissipahaws, Catawbas, and Tuscaroras mastered this ingenious and tricky weapon. I’ve made and used atlatls, and believe me, they have a long learning curve — harder to learn, in my opinion, than the sling. They’re easy to throw but require many weeks of practice to learn to aim properly.


Think of it as a custom-made lever for throwing darts. The power of an atlatl must be witnessed to be believed.


Larger points were generally used as spear points and knives, which were fitted with wooden handles, as I’ve demonstrated below. A flint knife with a good edge makes a very effective means of cutting and skinning. (You can click any image to enlarge it.)


2. They’re older than you think

The Clovis point, as illustrated in the first photo above, dates to between 10-15,000 years ago. It was introduced into North America with the migration of the Clovis people who continued down into South America.

3. Distinctive styles emerged over time

As the migration of Siberian peoples continued in the Americas, local cultures arose, which produced their own unique weapons. Over time, projectile point styles changed.

When I visited the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, my favorite display was an arrangement of flawless points sorted by time period. Clovis points came first, followed by styles that resembled those that immediately evolved from the Clovis in North Carolina, which in turn were followed by styles distinctly different from anything I’d ever seen. So once you’ve identified a point’s style, you know its approximate age.

4. There’s purpose in their beauty

Just as the SR-71 sports a design determined by its purpose, so do projectile points. Check out this Guilford rounded base point from my collection:


This seemingly delicate creation was meticulously formed using pressure flaking, a slow process of sharpening the edge by pressing it with a pointed instrument, as opposed to striking the point. Its perfect proportions ensure a smooth, accurate flight.

5. Growing reliance on European technology tainted the quality of projectile points

Hatchets and projectile points made from metal, and of course, flintlocks, gradually replaced traditional Indian weapons. Take a look at these Randolph points I found, which date back to the early 1700s:


Not quite as elegant as their ancestors, are they?

American Indian weapons have popped up in some of my works, including Gooseberry and Aztec Midnight. There’s a raw, elemental allure to primitive weapons that’s inspired many works of fantasy fiction. Learning about them connects us to a past that deserves to be remembered.

Quote of the day


“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling ‘Kilroy was here’ on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.” – William Faulkner

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard

For my birthday, my wife took me out for a night on the town that included a screening of Sunset Boulevard at the ImaginOn playhouse. It was part of a series entitled “Hollywood Shoots Itself: 11 Movies About Movies.” I saw Sunset Boulevard decades ago while working as a projectionist at a small television station, and was amazed at what I could remember — AND at what I’d forgotten.

Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, is an ambitious writer in 1949 Hollywood, but hasn’t sold a script in months. In typical writerly fashion, he wonders if just maybe his scripts are “too original” for Hollywood. (Hey, I’ve been guilty of that. How about you?) Anyway, Gillis finally snags an appointment with a producer, and makes his best elevator speech about a script for a movie with the working title Bases Loaded:

All right, Gillis. You’ve got
five minutes. What’s your story

It’s about a ball player, a rookie
shortstop that’s batting 347. The
poor kid was once mixed up in a hold-
up. But he’s trying to go straight —
except there’s a bunch of gamblers
who won’t let him.

So they tell the kid to throw the
World Series, or else, huh?

More or less. Only for the end
I’ve got a gimmick that’s real good.

Lesson for Writers Number 1: Your story has to stand out. Not only must the stakes be high, but you have to have a concept that’ll intrigue and entertain. It’s too easy to resort to stale formulas and hope YOUR version of a plot that’s been done to death will be different because YOU are the writer. News flash: It’ll take more than good writing or, worse, some kind of gimmick to get readers’ attention. Writers have to offer both a theme that readers will identify with as well as an interesting new twist on that theme. Gillis just doesn’t get it.

But he runs into someone who does when Sheldrake summons Betty, one of his readers, played by a businesslike but adorable Nancy Olson:

Hello, Mr. Sheldrake. On that Bases
Loaded. I covered it with a 2-page
(She holds it out)
But I wouldn’t bother.

What’s wrong with it?

Just a rehash of something that
wasn’t very good to begin with.

Ouch. But Betty’s right about Gillis’ script. In fact, everyone can see it’s a stale muffin except Gillis. Betty and Gillis gradually forget their awkward first meeting and couple up, but guess what? Even after Betty falls in love with Gillis, she still thinks Bases Loaded is a turkey.

That brings us to Lesson for Writers Number 2: Don’t take criticism personally. When you hear your wip doesn’t have what it takes, it doesn’t mean your readers don’t like you. Consider that the problems come from your manuscript rather than the debased natures of the philistines who don’t swoon over your work.

If you haven’t seen Sunset Boulevard, or haven’t seen it in a while, check it out. It’s a treasure chest of hilarious, sad, embarrassing, and educational scenes for all writers.

Aurora Wolf: Most Popular Stories


Aurora Wolf, a “literary journal of science fiction and fantasy,” has revamped its web site. In addition to brightening things up, they’ve created a more user-friendly commenting system. They’ve also added a new column on their home page entitled “Most Popular Stories.” (No direct link; go to the home page and scroll down.) The ranking includes stories published from 2009 up to the most current issue (July, 2016).

Anyway, my short story “Witch Flambé,” which was published in May, 2016, made the top five. Mega-thanks to my readers!

How J.R.R. Tolkien Found Mordor on the Western Front


Today is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The infantry charge was supposed to have been little more than a mopping-up operation. British artillery had pounded its targets for five days, ensuring — at least in the minds of the military staff — that the area would be defenseless. (Robert E. Lee used the same tactic at Gettsyburg, another great and tragic battle which began on July 1. Pickett’s Charge, like the Somme, was similarly conceived as a final stroke at a broken enemy, but instead resulted in horrendous loss of life.) More than 19,000 British soldiers died on the first day. One of the soldiers caught up in that battle was J.R.R. Tolkien:

According to the British historian Martin Gilbert, who interviewed Tolkien decades later about his combat experience, he came under intense enemy fire. He had heard “the fearful cries of men who had been hit,” Gilbert wrote. “Tolkien and his signalers were always vulnerable.”

Tolkien’s creative mind found an outlet. He began writing the first drafts of his mythology about Middle-earth, as he recalled, “by candle light in bell-tents, even some down in dugouts under shell fire.” In 1917, recuperating from trench fever, Tolkien composed a series of tales involving “gnomes,” dwarves and orcs engaged in a great struggle for his imaginary realm. …

In “The Lord of the Rings,” we meet Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee, Hobbits of the Shire, on a fateful mission to destroy the last Ring of Power and save Middle-earth from enslavement and destruction. The heroism of Tolkien’s characters depends on their capacity to resist evil and their tenacity in the face of defeat. It was this quality that Tolkien witnessed among his comrades on the Western Front.

“I have always been impressed that we are here, surviving, because of the indomitable courage of quite small people against impossible odds,” he explained. The Hobbits were “a reflection of the English soldier,” made small of stature to emphasize “the amazing and unexpected heroism of ordinary men ‘at a pinch.’ ”

Not only did Tolkien’s battle experience give TLOTR its grim authenticity, it also inspired in him a deep respect and fascination for tales of courage and sacrifice. Despite the terrible ordeal that WWI proved to be, its lessons, filtered and interpreted by a skilled writer, are a treasured part of our heritage. Lest we forget.