The projectile tips of Drakaina Cave

The projectile tips of Drakaina Cave

The assemblage

Drakaina Cave chipped stone tool kit is characterized by the large number of projectile tips, as 210 specimens have been unearthed. Percentagewise, projectile tips constitute the dominant category among formal tools. The significance of this assemblage is not only quantitative, since other aspects of it can be highly informative in a multitude of ways as we shall see.

Figure 1

Various local cherts were used and rarely obsidian (n=4) or other macroscopically exotic looking cherts (n=2). On typological grounds, four main types can be established, namely asymmetrical points (n=157, fig. 2 and 3), tanged/tanged and barbed points (n=20, fig. 4), transverse arrowheads (n=10, fig. 1) and triangular points (n=2). Few opportunistically made specimens (n=5) cannot be included in any category. The rest are undeterminable fragments or possible pre-forms. It has to be noted that asymmetrical points and transverse arrowheads form a morphological continuum. However, the two extremes of this continuum differ functionally. Transverse arrowheads are suitable for cutting, while asymmetrical points with a low-angle tip would inflict a penetrating blow.

Figure 2

The typological classification is not matched by the operational sequences implemented. The most usual, which can be termed as ‘expedient’ was used for the manufacture of transverse arrowheads and asymmetrical points, but not infrequently also for that of tanged/tanged and barbed points. Its characteristics include: use was made of raw material of every quality and category, whether local or imported, while opportunistic use of suitable flakes or irregular pointed blades was made. There was a tendency to minimize secondary modification, which was frequently limited to what was necessary for the forming of a tang, and did not involve any intermediate pre-forms.

Figure 3

The second, which can be termed ‘standardized’, is confined to a group of carefully made tanged and barbed points, very similar to those credited with a degree of symbolic significance (Demoule & Perlθs 1993,195). Regular pressure blades of fine grained reddish or yellowish chert were used as blanks, while secondary reduction involved at least one bifacial pre-form and generally more investment in retouch.

Figure 4

The distinction between those two operational sequences is not always clear-cut, since some specimens combine elements of both. It is noteworthy that specimens from both groups were used. The use of some sort of adhesive material for hafting facilitation, observed in many specimens, cannot be considered conclusive evidence. Impact scars however, mainly bending and burin like fractures (e.g. see Fisher et al. 1984), are a reliable indicator of use.

Discussion and inferences

The assemblage can provide valuable inferences on the basis of three intrinsic properties, namely raw material utilization, technology and typology. Those inferences will help us to expand our discussion beyond the confines of the chipped stone assemblage, addressing issues pertaining to the use of the cave, local ideology, as well as inter-local ties.

The use of reddish chert almost exclusively for projectiles (n=27), and even more its avoidance in the case of non-projectile tools, is a remarkable feature of the chipped stone assemblage. This picture points to cultural constraints, probably related with some kind of supernatural beliefs surrounding red colour as those ethnographically documented (cf. Taçon 1991), which is further reinforced by the preferential burning of finished projectiles made of reddish chert. Neither the latter can be rationally explained, but rather has to be seen as explicit evidence for cultic practices.

Use of reddish chert is made also for specimens that are not technically fine, and can even be very expedient. That very likely means that projectiles had some inherent special value, which had to do with the activity and/or ideology they represent, and not (only) the input of labour and expertise. Moreover, it is important that essentially only a flake reduction technology was practiced in the cave, with very rare exceptions. The extraordinary number of flaked-based asymmetrical points, absent from any other assemblages from the island (see Foss 2002 with further references) must therefore be a direct corollary of the cave's use, regardless if several artefacts were (re)introduced in the cave after use. It has to be noted that the ‘expedient’ manufacture technique does not involve any distinct pre-forms. This entails that fewer artefacts would remain unfinished, and those who probably did are not easily distinguished as such, or regarded as somewhat haphazardly flaked finished artefacts.

The persistence of asymmetrical points well into the Chalcolithic, probably was a result of the expedient techniques related with the exploitation of local chert. However, the introduction of tanged/tanged and barbed points in Drakaina Cave at late LN is neither related with any notable change neither in reduction techniques, nor in the exploitation of local cherts vs. imported materials. On the other hand, it is concomitant with profound changes visible in pottery. This indicates that the appropriation of tanged/tanged and barbed points by local groups had a cultural stimulus, reflecting an intensification and expansion of inter-local relations. It underlines the arbitrariness of technological choices (as for instance in the case of the Anga in New Guinea, to remain within the field of projectile tips, see Lemonnier 1992), and one wonders whether the previous shunning of tanged/tanged and barbed points had an accordingly cultural character.

Focusing on the use of the cave, the main question is why were projectiles manufactured in Drakaina Cave itself, and more so since its location could not directly facilitate any hunting activities. It shall be proposed that the site had a special significance due to its association with a prominent landmark (see also Stratouli 2005, 2007) and its near-inaccessibility. That endowed the cave with mythological significance (sensu Tilley 1994), also evidenced in modern-day folklore. Symbolically important activities such as hunting and/or warfare, as evidenced by the inherent value of projectile tips (see above), were associated with this powerful location.

Based on the almost exclusive practice of a flake core reduction technique in Drakaina Cave and the manufacture of flake-based projectiles, we can think of the role that secluded places and simple techniques had in knowledge transmission (Apel 2001, for the case of flint daggers). This would suggest that manufacturing projectiles in Drakaina Cave promoted social coherence and egalitarianism, through the utilization of simple techniques achievable by everyone, in a place of communal significance.

On the other hand, an opposite approach is possible. Technology can be actively involved in such a negotiation of distinct social identities on the basis of class, age or gender. We can refer to the example of the Langda in New Guinea, where the production of stone adzes is socially regulated in a strict manner (Stout 2002). In a similar line of reasoning, a possible explanation would be that the usage of simple flake techniques was due to the work of apprentices, perhaps embedded in events of liminal character. Such circumstances might be further indicated by the repeated construction of lime-plaster floors over a very long period and the significant presence of red ochre and four-legged rhyta in the cave (for more details see Karkanas & Stratouli 2008, Stratouli 2005, Stratouli & Metaxas 2009).


We hinted towards an intricate relation between raw material exploitation, technology, artefact typology, site location and use, local identity and interregional ties. This brief discussion cannot investigate all the nuances of such complex processes of course, a task requiring more supportive evidence. Its aim was to show that the most parsimonious explanation regarding the role of on-site projectile tips manufacture entails a degree of interrelatedness between knapping and the local social dynamics. The latter has been part of approaches on Greek Neolithic chipped stone assemblages (cf. Skourtopoulou 1998, Perlθs & Vitelli 1999, 102), but the prolific nature of the evidence from Drakaina Cave can help in further expanding those thoughts.


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May 2009

Odysseas Metaxas
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