Friday, May 15, 2009

Finding the Arrowhead

As a young boy I would often go with my dad on long walks in the field behind my grandmothers house. The terrain was hilly with a small winding steam running through the 100+ acres of the old farm site. In the fall we would walk in the fields that had been plowed in the spring, mostly cotton and corn fields, and less I forget the watermelon patch. By the late fall all the crops had been gathered. As my father and I walked the long plowed rows from one end to the other and then back again down another row he would occasionally bend over and pick up a rock. Tagging along behind him I would reach down and pick up a rock and say, "I found one too". He would laugh and continue. It took me a number of years to figure out what he was looking for in the plowed ground.

As time progressed I learned how to find the arrowheads among the rocks. Of coarse, this was only a rudimentary understanding of what I was finding or even looking for in the beginning. I was beginning to learn one thing however, most of the arrowheads were close to the small stream running through the fields. One place in particular was always a good spot, a small rise in an otherwise flat field next to the steam. I could always count on finding something there.

During my teen years I continued to walk the fields occasionally and continue finding a arrowhead from time to time. In those days I was only looking for what most people call arrowheads--actually, they were spear points. Many of the stones I observed had obviously been worked by the early Indians, but if they didn't look like arrowheads I quickly discarded them. Only years later did I learn that many of the rocks I threw away were possibility more valuable than those I kept---if only I had know. I recall picking up many pieces and thinking , "well they didn't finish this one" when in reality it was a completed piece and I just didn't recognize what it was. Many of the pieces I discarded were very old points that don't fit the traditional picture of the arrowhead, and many were what we call scrappers and other tools shaped by the natives into stone tools used for many different task. I discarded many, many valuable and not so valuable tools thinking they were broken or otherwise incomplete.

I did gain some knowledge during those early years. I learned where to look and when to look for the artifacts. In the spring after the fields were fresh plowed and after several good rains when the dirt would be washed from the rocks in the field was the best time. And in those plowed areas closest to the small stream. And finally in a small rise could be found in the creek bottom (that low land along the steam, is referred to as bottom land). This was the best spot for hunting the points.

The early native Americans would often have their camps and even there villages close to steams---this was vital to them. They had to have a nearby water supply. If a small hill was close to the stream all the better. One has to always keep in mind that native Americans had been here 12,000-15,000 thousand years before the white man came and a good spot along some stream may have been occupied and abandon many, many, many times over those thousands of years. I have found sites that have points dating back as far as 10,000 years and at the same location point dating back only a 1000 years. Good sites often have this variety of points from different periods. As a teenager I always thought the arrowheads I found to be only a few hundred years old---it was a long time before I realized their true age and I must say I was amazed. One of the great joys in finding an old artifact is the realization that your hand is probably the first human hand that has held that piece in thousands of years and that the very artifact you are holding was made by an early native American thousands of years ago, maybe even before the pyramids were built in ancient Egypt and perhaps it was made during the time that the saber-tooth tiger and the woolly-mammoth walked the land. Truly a piece of the past--the very distant past.

So what do these ancient artifacts look like, what shapes do they take and how can I identify them. Some of these questions can be easily answered and some require years of experiance and studying to learn. In the next post I will show some images of my personal finds and images from other sources to try and enlighten you.

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