A group of geology enthusiasts, natural history buffs and anthropology fans went back in time 10,000 years to learn about traditional arrow-making from Coastsider Bob Pinto, a forester who retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.
“There are different dates in different areas, but generally, most archeologists and anthropologists will agree that the arrow came about 10,000 years ago,” said Pinto. Prior to that, people hunted with spears and atlatls, which required hunters to stand closer to their prey.
Pinto’s presentation, titled “Traditional Arrow-Making by North American Indigenous People: A Demonstration” took place earlier this month at Senior Coastsiders and was organized by the Half Moon Bay History Association. Standing in front of a group of about 30 people, Pinto explained that he would show them how to make an arrow using the rocks, animal parts and plants that he’d laid out on a table. He started by fashioning an arrowhead. Obsidian, he said, is the best choice of rock.
“It’s softer and just the easiest to work with,” he said, holding up a piece of a black obsidian rock that he sourced from Mount Shasta in Siskiyou County. “It comes out of the volcano, and anywhere you have volcanic activity, you’re going to have igneous rocks.
“That’s one of the important characteristics of the rocks so that we can control the fracture,” he added, referring to the natural ridges in the rock.
Using a short deer antler, Pinto struck the rock with a controlled tap. “Now, the important thing is not to hit the obsidian just anywhere,” said Pinto. “You have to hit it on one of the edges. The angle has to be less than 90 degrees.”
The first two attempts were unsuccessful, leaving some shards and fine bits behind. The third time a thin disk about two inches wide broke off the rock. The audience was duly impressed.
Pinto used a hard, oval rock to shape the arrowhead. Careful! Obsidian forms scalpel-sharp edges and can cut clean through materials as thick as animal hide and human fingers.
“I’ve cut myself several times,” said Pinto.
Next came the shaft, for which Pinto suggested using willow. For one thing, hundreds of willow species exist all over the world, and so they’re easy to find. More importantly, they’re sturdy and keep a straight shape. Alternatives include wild rose stems or greasewood stems, said Pinto.
For the next step, Pinto attached the arrowhead to the shaft with animal tendons. Bird feathers were adhered to the opposite end. Stick with eagle and hawk feathers, said Pinto. For waterproofing, he suggested tree sap or tar.
“I’m fascinated with the history,” said audience member Chris Estes, of Half Moon Bay, who said she learned how to make bent willow furniture when she lived in Tennessee.
“Everything he taught tonight was the beginning of survival. I’m excited to try and make some of these arrows.”
Coastsiders making arrowheads (aka flint knapping )can find the same plentifiul Green Chert stone native Americans used for thousands of years at the Pacifica Limestone Quarry- the site of the ancient prehistoric village of Timigtac, and close to the epicenter of both the March 1957 and March 2023 earthquakes which pushed up both stone and buried native american artifacts.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.