Monday 1 October 2012

Objects in Focus: Flint Arrowheads

Flint arrowheads can be dated to the Neolithic and Bronze Ages and were used very commonly throughout Britain and Ireland. The flint was shaped by knapping and pressure-flaking, both processes involve reducing the flint by striking the stone. The knapping would reduce the flint to the desired size and pressure-flaking would achieve the desired shape and refine the projectile point of the flint. A number of the examples in these photos are barbed and tanged making them easier to attach to a shaft.  
As well as their practical use, flint arrowheads were heavily associated with the fairies in Scotland and were called saighead shìth. It was commonly believed that these weapons were thrown at cattle and humans by the fairies in an effort to capture them. Any person or animal that was taken ill suddenly was thought to have been shot at and replaced with a changeling.
The flints were also used as protection against the fairies but, similarly to the St John's Wort Achlasan Chaluim Chille, they could only be found accidentally. Carmichael was informed that the fairies were always eager to get their arrowheads back and provides an account of his own experience in Carmina Gadelica ii:

The people say that a fairy arrow, especially the arrow of the fairy queen, cannot be safeguarded against the wiles of the fairies. The writer can confirm this in his own experience, having unaccountably lost, despite all possible care, the smallest and most beautifull shaped and coloured arrow-head he has ever seen, and that within a few hours after getting it!

As well as being used as protection, the flints were used in cures. Water in which the arrowheads were dipped would be given to a cow to remedy being shot at. Alternatively the water would be used to wash the wound inflicted or the stone itself was rubbed on the area.
The Carmichael Collection housed at the West Highland Museum has 18 flint arrowheads of various shapes, sizes and colours. If you happen to be in Fort William do visit the Museum, it's worth it!
Copyright Carsten Flieger
Campbell, J.G. (2005) The Gaelic Otherworld, Edinburgh: Birlinn Press.
Carmina Gadelica ii, 346-7.

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Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]