Projectile Points: Triangle -part II

by Robin RameyCART Assistant Lab Director

Example of a triangle point that was recovered from an archaeological site in Fairfax County.

Types of triangle points found in our area



Identifying Triangle Point Types

Identifying the characteristics such as those listed above helps archaeologists tie the projectile points they find in the field to larger, regional point typologies. Knowing what “type” of projectile point occurs at a site can help researchers learn what time period the site was occupied, what technology was being utilized there, and sometimes even suggest behavioral patterns of the people who lived there. Unfortunately, when it comes to triangle points in our area, assigning points to specific types can be quite tricky.

One reason that “typing” triangle points can be difficult is because the nomenclature for triangle point types varies regionally across the east coast. So, the same point that a researcher in New York would call a “Levanna” may be identified by a researcher in North Carolina as a “Yadkin.” Further, even within a regional typology the definitions of different types can overlap considerably. For example the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab posits that

“As a general rule of thumb in Maryland, Late Woodland period isosceles points can be classified as Madison, large equilateral points as Levanna, and small equilaterals as Potomac.”

However, the definition of both Levanna and Potomac points state that they too can be isosceles, and the definition of the Madison point type states that some are equilateral. For this reason, many researchers have been reluctant to assign triangle points to specific types, instead lumping them into a single triangle point category (MAC Lab 2012).

Further complicating the task of identifying triangle points is their somewhat disputed chronology. Traditionally, triangle points were thought to be synonymous with the Middle and Late Woodland period (MAC Lab 2012). More recently, however, a growing number of triangle points have been recovered from contexts solidly dated to the earlier Archaic time period (Luckenbach et al 2010). Archaic triangle points have now been located at independent sites across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic as far north as New York and as far south as Maryland. Each discovery—of course—resulted in yet another new type definition, adding to the already arduous process of identifying triangle points. However, the revelation that triangle points were being made in the Archaic period simultaneously made it more important than ever to be able to properly “type” them, as it could no longer be assumed that all types were diagnostic to the same period.

Unluckily for us, the Archaic varieties display many of the same characteristics as the Woodland types. In fact, an in-depth study of the Archaic and Woodland triangle points from Abbott Farm (a well-known Archaic triangle point site) found that it was virtually impossible to distinguish between them at the individual point level (Katz 2000). Thus, archaeologists must rely heavily on context to determine how old a triangle point really is. So when it comes to triangle points, as every archaeologist has said at least once in his or her career: context is everything!


Department of Historic Resources.
n.d.       Native American Comparative Collections: Points., accessed 12/14/2017.

Katz, Gregory M.
2000       Archaic Period Triangular Bifaces in the Middle Atlantic Region: Technological and Functional Considerations. M.A. thesis, Department of Anthropology, Temple University, Philadelphia.

Luckenbach, Al, Jessie Grow, and Shawn Sharpe
2010       Archaic Period Triangular Points from Pig Point, Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 26:165-180.

Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory
2012       [2002] Projectile Points: Archaic Triangular Points. Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland., accessed 12/04/17.

About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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