1) In real life pre-industrial iron-age societies, were there any trappers/foresters/etc who used stone or bone arrowheads for their arrows, or were iron and bronze arrowheads so cheap that everyone used them?

2) If the answer is "metal arrows were so cheap everyone used them", how scarce would iron and bronze have to get to make the poorer amongst the populace use stone or bone arrowheads?

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    $\begingroup$ 1) is more a history question than a worldbuilding question. $\endgroup$ Nov 1, 2016 at 7:03
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    $\begingroup$ Iron age or just preindustrial? That's a really big difference. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Nov 1, 2016 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ The time setting is very important. In the Iliad, Achilles offers iron as part of the prizes at the funeral games for Patroclus, indicating that even in the Bronze age it was considered fantastically valuable. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Nov 1, 2016 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ As with many History-related questions, especially middle ages ones: WHERE and WHEN? There is a huge difference between 800 in Rome and Heddeby, 1066 in Paris and London or 1400 in Munich. Without a more targeted point or area, such a question is "too broad" $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Nov 1, 2016 at 17:54

3 Answers 3


1) It is very likely that non-metal tools persisted for a long time after the advent of iron and bronze.

Flint is actually a pretty good material for arrowheads and other small cutting tools as it can take an extremely sharp cutting edge (indeed obsidian is used even now for specialist surgical tools for eye surgery etc) and unless you are trying to penetrate armour its brittleness is not a major drawback.

Flint also has the advantage that as long as you can get the raw material all you need to make it is skilled labour. Unlike iron smelting you don;t need any sort of industrial infrastructure and knapping tools can be carried in a pocket. Clearly this is a big plus for small communities of semi-nomadic hunter gatherers.

The big advantage of metalworking is that once you have the facilities set up and a ready supply of the raw material you can manufacture tools fairly quickly and in quantity. This means that any sort of metalworking is inherently leaning towards a trade based economy based around a more settled community.

It is also important to bear in in mind that the iron of the iron age is not remotely the same thing as modern steel and primitive wrought iron is in many ways inferior to bronze as a material for tools and the ability to produce steel would have been almost magical and certainly not a technology which would proliferate very quickly.

Equally while the best flit tools are works of great craftsmanship it is also true that you can just smash a flint with a rock and get a load of usable sharp edges.

Having said that wrought iron has some significant advantages in that it is a very versatile material and can be used for nails, wheel rims, cooking pots, buckles agricultural tools etc etc so once a community starts to rely on iron for these more domestic applications it makes economic sense to phase out flint knapping and consolidate toolmaking with the blacksmith.

Iron also has the advantage over bronze that in many areas (eg central Britain and Scandinavia) there were abundant supplies of good quality iron ore near the surface and plenty of forests of fuel to smelt it as well as clay and limestone for smelting as opposed to bronze which even now is very expensive as supplies of copper and especially tin are less abundant and harder to get at.


Iron and bronze were luxury items when they first appeared. Only high status or rich folks could afford them. Here are some stone arrowheads from the Early Bronze Age in the UK A rummage around the interweb seems to indicate that flint use was dying out by the Middle Bronze Age. However, this thesis is all about flint use in the Iron Age (p219 for what flint was being used for, e.g. use a flint knife to cut salt because an iron knife will rust).

I suspect that the re-usability of metal vs stone arrowheads is also a factor. Flint and the like is lovely and sharp, but also very brittle compared to metal (even early metals where we were just getting the hang of smelting it right). So if you buy 20 stone arrowheads from a flint knapper and 20 iron arrowheads from the blacksmith, the latter may last you a lot longer before you have to replace them. So even if they were the same price, people might prefer iron.

Also resharpening blunted stone arrows is a much more skilled and fiddly task than using a whetstone to resharpen a metal arrowhead.

And if the area you live in has no flint/chert/obsidian to make stone arrowheads, you'll have to import them.


Arrowhead were highly reusable. Raw metal was costly, but, luckily, arrowhead were often apprentice work, so the craft itself was not that expensive.

I'm not sure of the availability of metal arrowhead, but most hunter were either sanctioned by the owner of the land (noble or church) or poachers. The first group should have had no trouble getting the proper equipment, and the second group would have mainly used traps like wire snares for hare/rabbit and the like or glue for birds. Except a bird dying on a glue trap might attract too much attention. For the poachers, equipment might be quite problematic as they might not have the means and possessing those weapons might attract attention - depending of the law of the land.


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