Doc Todd and The MythBusters

The most recent episode of the Discovery Channel’s “The MythBusters” featured a question from two of my former profs at the University of Wyoming (only 1 of which they acknowledge): Todd Surovell (http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/SUROVELL/) and Nicole Waguespack (http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/nmwhomepage/)

Background: Projectile points are the most frequent archaeological find across North America and span the Paleoindian colonization through the modern era. Expert flintknappers like Bruce Bradley can produce a projectile point in a half hour, but in the prehistoric world this also requires acquisition of raw materials (flint/chert/etc) and curation of a variety of hafting, production, and sharpening equipment.

Alternatively, it takes only a couple of minutes to sharpen a stick, for which you only need a stick and a flake to produce.


Question: Do these little guys offer more penetration power than a sharpened stick? Or do they convey an advantage in terms of accuracy? Or do they just look cool?

Answer: Hosts Adam and Jamie found that in terms of penetration power and accuracy, a projectile point hafted to an arrow does not provide a significant advantage over a sharpened stick. The only noticeable differences (when firing an arrow through hide-covered ballistics gel shaped like a human for some reason) were a little more penetration (couple cm?) and a slightly larger slice through the hide.

Problems (the scientist in me):
They tested this question with one type of projectile point – nevermind the extreme amount of variability in p.p. forms, sizes, and the kind of animal it is used to kill. Also relevant is the variation in the kinds of wood found throughout the continent – clearly this will have an effect on the structural abilities of a stick to penetrate a hide.

Further, why are they shooting this thing through a piece of hide into ballistics gel? I’m wondering if projectile points do more damage because they are clearly able to penetrate bone.
Mammoth hunts probably involved days of tracking a slowly dying animal – among other things, penetration of the bone would increase the severity of the wound and heighten the stress and infection levels of the animal. Why didn’t they pull a Doc Frison and shoot these into some elephants – now that would be sweet.

Problems (the anthropologist in me):
Adam, of course, couldn’t help but dress like some sort of caveman, put on fake teeth and a wig, and act like an idiot. Ok, alright, I know this is a t.v. show made for the public. I can acknowledge that, but the fact that they are testing an issue regarding the use of technology made by clearly modern individuals and acting like some sort of Middle Paleolithic speechless Neandertal is both disrespectful and a misrepresentation of what it is we actually study as North American archaeologists.

And p.s., living peoples across the world use projectile points.