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Projectile Points
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POTOMAC

Thumbnail image of a Potomac Point.Defining Attributes
The Potomac point is equilateral in shape.  It is the smallest triangular point in Maryland, and is usually made from quartz. 

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Chronology
The Potomac point dates to the Late Woodland period.  Stephenson and Ferguson (1963) identify the point as characteristic of the Potomac Creek Component, which they date to 1200 to 1700 AD.  Potter (1993) sees the type developing after 1300 AD in the Potomac River Valley.

   For information about similar Archaic Period triangular points, click here.

Description

Blade:  The blade is a small equilateral triangle, although Stephenson and Ferguson (1963) include isosceles points as a minor variant.  It typically has straight sides, but some can be slightly incurvate or excurvate.  The tip is sharp, and the blade is thin and lenticular.

Haft Element:  The base is straight or concave.  At the type site for the point, Accokeek Creek, 50% of the bases are concave, often extremely concave, while the other half are straight (Stephenson and Ferguson 1963). 

Size:  Equilateral specimens range from 16 to 26 mm in length and width, with an average of 21 mm.  They are 3 to 7 mm thick, with a mean of 4 mm.  

Technique of manufacture:  Well-made and symmetrical, with fine pressure flakes on both sides.

Material:  At the Accokeek Creek site, 91% of 536 points were quartz, with the rest being quartzite, chert, slate, or argillite (Stephenson and Ferguson 1963).  In a sample of 53 Potomac points from the lower Patuxent drainage, Steponaitis (1980) reported that 98% were quartz, with the rest chert (2%).  In the area surrounding Zekiah Swamp on the lower Potomac, Wanser (1982) found that 91% of 59 Madison points were quartz, with lesser amounts of chert, quartzite, and other materials.  Quartz is the dominant material for Potomac points in the middle Potomac River Valley, but quartzite, chert, and rhyolite are also used (Hranicky 2002). In the Hagerstown Valley, over half of the triangular points were rhyolite, followed by lesser amounts of chert, jasper, quartz, and quartzite (Stewart 1980).  In Delaware, triangular points are most commonly made from quartz, jasper, and chert (Custer 1996a).

Discussion
Small equilateral Late Woodland period arrowheads are found throughout the East, but the name “Potomac” seems to be largely confined to the mid-Atlantic area, particularly Maryland and the north half of Virginia.  Stephenson and Ferguson (1963:195) note that the Potomac point could be just a local variant of the Levanna, distinguished mostly by material preference.  Potter (1993) agrees, and calls the Potomac “Levanna Small Triangular.”  The Potomac is also similar to the contemporary Clarksville type, defined by Coe (1964) in North Carolina.

As a general rule of thumb in Maryland, small Late Woodland period equilateral points can be classified as Potomac, large equilaterals as Levanna, and isosceles points as Madison.  However, the published type descriptions for all three show considerable morphological overlap.  As a result of this, and given also the potential modification of triangular points through resharpening, the assignment of type names and dates to individual specimens can be problematic.  Some researchers prefer to combine all the Late Woodland triangular points into one type (cf. Custer 1996a; Wall et al. 1996).

Defined in Literature
This type was originally defined by Stephenson and Ferguson (1963) based on examples recovered from the Accokeek Creek site in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

References

Coe 1964; Custer 1996a; Hranicky 2002; Potter 1993; Stephenson and Ferguson 1963; Steponaitis 1980; Stewart 1980; Wall et al. 1996; Wanser 1982

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Maryland's Prehistory

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Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab Updated: 12/30/12

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