Thursday, June 07, 2012

Arrowhead odyssey

     Someone recently asked me how I got started collecting arrowheads. I have never really considered myself to be an arrowhead collector, my hobby is really more about looking for them than collecting them (or even finding them, most of the time). But it is certainly true, I have a collection of these things, and I spend a lot of time trying to add to the collection. The story of how I got started is kind of a long one. I have always been interested in history- holding old things, visiting old places, hearing stories about the past, all these things have always sparked my imagination. Even as a child I collected rusty old nails and pieces of crockery I found, and I treasured old books I found in my father's bookcase. I have an aunt and uncle in California and my uncle told me about a friend there who had found lots of nice arrowheads on his property. He gave me an obsidian blade that I still have. Maybe that is why I always assumed that arrowheads were things that could be found out West, not here in Massachusetts. I thought that finding an arrowhead near where I live would be a freak once-in-a-lifetime find that could only happen by some lucky chance. As I got older I would go exploring in the woods most weekends, often finding stone structures I thought might have been made by Indians, but I never dreamed of finding an ancient stone tool, it seemed impossible. Then in 2008 I saw on this blog pictures of arrowheads that Peter W. had found. The amazing things he had collected in the state where I live filled me with wonder. How could it be possible, that one person could find not just one arrowhead, but a whole collection? The thought of being able to be the person to find an arrowhead after all this time was something I could barely fathom. Weeks went by and I found myself spending more and more time imagining what it might feel like to find an arrowhead in some place where it had been left behind long ago. One of the posts here mentioned that someone finding an arrowhead was not really a rare thing. I couldn't believe it, I started asking some friends and sure enough, some of them knew of some places where artifacts had been found. I got the (very wrong) idea, at that time, that arrowheads were maybe even actually easy to find, abundant. I started idly and half-heartedly looking in ridiculous places like next to my driveway. By the beginning of 2009 I was e-mailing anyone I thought could help and asking for tips on how to find arrowheads. At that time I thought if I put in a little effort over a couple of weekends that I could find one, and the quest would end, and I would be happy with just one, even if it was broken. Many of the people I e-mailed did not respond, there were three people that did and that patiently answered all of my questions and were helpful. I must have read those e-mails a thousand times, in fact I have saved many of them and I still look at them from time to time. The advice I got from everyone was always more or less the same: Look for places near water where the ground is exposed, walk slowly, look carefully, examine a lot of rocks. Well, I got out there and started looking and I didn't find anything. I walked streams, I followed dirt trails in the woods, I picked along riverbanks and lakeshores and I spent hours on the computer looking for places that seemed like they might be good to search. I did a lot of research and noticed that some areas had more documented sites than others, I started to focus on areas where there might have been a lot of Indians long ago. I started knocking on doors, asking landowners if I could look on their property. My first day out talking to landowners, two people told me arrowheads had been found on their property in the past. A huge success for me, a great feeling of achievement that I had been able to identify places to look where there was stuff to be found. But of course, I still needed to learn when to look, and how to look; there were some people who helped me with those questions too and encouraged me when I was taking pictures of any vaguely pointy broken rock thinking it might be a tool. They told me to go after it rained, to learn about the different materials used locally for making tools, to look for chips and flakes and concave flaking on broken edges. All spring and summer I spent what felt like hundreds of hours searching and not finding anything. I learned that there are a lot of rocks on the ground, and that very many of them are triangular but are not arrowheads. I learned how leaves and goose turds and dragonfly wings and spider webs and plastic trash could look just like arrowheads. But in all that time I found no tools. There were times I thought about just giving up but I kept telling myself that some day I could find one and then I could go back to my regular life and pasttimes. Finally, in October 2009 I found my first broken artifact. It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment, I smiled for a week. My curiosity and my idle daydreams about finding an arrowhead had become an intense personal mission. And now I had something, and the quest was over, or so I thought... Then I decided I wanted to find one whole one. And when I found a whole one, an argillite stemmed point in spring 2010, I wanted a whole quartz one. I found one of those, a triangle, in July 2010. But by then I was hooked. The adrenaline rush of finding an arrowhead is the most addictive thing I have known. I now spend almost no time in the woods, looking for arrowheads consumes most of my free time. The rhythm of the seasons and the changes in the places I look control how I spend my time. I see meaning in every stream and river, every hill and valley. I eagerly look at the weather forecast every day, planning obligations around rainstorms. Now I can't imagine not looking for arrowheads, it is part of my life.
     Some time has passed and I have found some good places to search. I return to these places over and over. But very often I will get out and try new places, where I have not looked before. This reminds me of when I first started, picking up every broken rock, not knowing what type of materials I might be looking for, or if in fact there is anything there to find at all. Most of the time these places are void and I don't find anything. But from time to time I will find something in a new place, these finds are very rewarding. My friend Dave who found the Adena point while we were searching for stuff over the weekend told me about a new spot that looked like a likely place, but it is a big area and seemed like it might be a little overwhelming. It has been raining so much and it rained yesterday, I needed to get out after work and hoped to have some luck. I wanted to head to a familiar place but Dave convinced me to try out the new place instead. We both spent a couple of hours there carefully looking but not finding anything. The conditions were good but there was hardly any sign of ancient activity, I picked up some broken pieces but found it hard to say if they were chips from making tools, or just rocks. At one point we were getting ready to leave but then Dave found a tiny broken quartz projectile point tip, really just a tiny fragment but it was encouraging and we decided to keep looking. I'm glad we did! I found this at the end of the night as it was just starting to get dark. Dave and I were both in the same area when I spotted it, I'm lucky he didn't spot it first! It was only partially exposed and resting on a little pedestal of dirt. I couldn't tell it it was whole or broken or just what it was. It could have been a little broken triangle or a big Clovis.

When I picked it up I felt a little resistance that told me there was more in the ground, a good sign! I was thrilled to find it whole. At first I thought it was a big Levanna but looking closely I can see little notches near the base of the blade on both sides, I believe this is a Brewerton Notched Triangle. Someone I showed pictures to suggested Hardaway. Whatever it is, it is old. This is one of my best finds, maybe my best ever.

A nice reward at the end of the day...
Before we walked out I also spotted a broken piece sticking out of the dirt. I could see that it had flaking but also that it was broken. I thought it might be the blade part of a large projectile point, point down in the ground, missing the base.
I reached to pick it up and was amazed to see more and more rock coming up as I pulled it out of the ground, it was huge! It turned out that what was visible on the surface was just one small exposed part of a big quarry blank or preform, unfortunately broken.
I couldn't stop smiling last night as I went to sleep and I was still smiling this morning when I woke up. Zero Brewertons in a couple of years, then two in a week. The fact is that no matter how productive a spot is, no matter how experienced one is in scanning the ground, it all ultimately still comes down to luck. You could find nothing or you could make the find of a lifetime. You just need to be in the right place at the right time.


pwax said...

Gorgeous Brewerton.

pwax said...

Thank you for the account.

Anonymous said...

Im hooked too. nice story.
Today a coworker brought in part of his arrowhead collection at my request. Amazing to see a huge, decades of collecting local finds. He had a paleo clovis point he found locally. Was the First time I ever held one, it was a beauty. That is, hands down, the holy grail of arrowheads. Good luck!

Melissa, Uxbridge said...

Just wanted to thank you for your great, informative post. I am still in the "looking in ridiculous places" phase but am too filled with wonder and excitement of finding something someone held so long ago. You have just given me some great tools to move forward on my quest & lots of hope too:) Thanks for sharing.

Dave said...

Can't wait to get back out there!