by Mike Roper, Trussville, Alabama
Originally Published in the Central States Archaeological Journal, Vol.56, No.2, pg.94
I have collected artifacts in the surrounding counties of Trussville, Alabama for the past fifty years. I have found many of the small projectiles that are commonly known as “bird points.” Over the years I have developed a personal theory of how they were used.
Wherever we find them in Alabama we usually find more than just one. In some areas on the Coosa River, we have literally found hundreds. It is my opinion these points were actually used to kill birds when they were roosting. An example of such a bird would be the Passenger Pigeon, which were known to number in the millions in the mid 19th Century. History records that at one time flocks of these birds were so numerous they blocked the sun.
Hamilton and Madison points are late Mississippian projectiles that are known to be from the period when these birds were numerous (Figure 1.).
In the De Soto chronicles, there is mention that the Indians in the Alabama area utilized the small river cane for their arrows. This river cane is plentiful even today. If these “bird points” were mounted on a very small shaft, they could be inserted into the hollow cane arrow shaft ( Figure 2.). Then, if a cut were made sev eral inches above the joint, this would allow the point with its small shaft to be inserted. It would bottom out on the joint below. If the bird point was mounted on a shaft six inches long this would allow it to extend out of the arrow shaft about three inches. These finished “darts” could then be shot into the roosting flock of birds. They would penetrate into the bird and the shaft to fall back to the ground. Then another dart could be placed into the end and then shot. This process could be repeated again and again with the hunter needing just a few arrows and a handful of darts.
These points, with their wide bases would not be practical to be utilized as “breath-blown” darts shot from a blowgun (Figure 3.). Additionally, it would also be difficult to blow them fifty or sixty feet into the air with enough force to kill a bird the size of a pigeon. I have made several working models as shown in the drawing ( Figure 2.) with great success.
Today, the massive flocks of birds are gone, the Passenger Pigeon extinct and the populations of many other species greatly diminished from what they were five hundred years ago. The Indians would have utilized these most convenient food sources, and most certainly would have had a practical way to hunt them.
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