It was a hot summer day. I was outside, annoyed, tired and working away at fixing our broken garden hose spout. The pipe that led to the spigot went under our deck, where it had cracked over the winter. I was called to brave the spiders and years of forgotten chew toys in order to fix the pipe.
It was truly an unpleasant experience, crawling on hands and knees through the sandy residue at the base of our house, being careful not to be cut by stray nails or broken glass. As I was crawling, I spotted a strange stone, oddly shaped, shaped like an arrowhead.
My first reaction was skepticism. I picked it up to examine it but did not believe that it was real. It was just laying there under our deck after all.
But I held onto it, and when anthropology and sociology chair Bradley Chase started talking about Native American projectile points in his Ancient Civilizations class, I wanted to learn more about the arrowhead that I had found.
I therefore set out to verify and identify my artifact. The first thing I had to do was learn more about arrowheads themselves.
One of the reasons I was doubtful of the authenticity of my arrowhead originally was because I’d seen boxes of fake arrowheads for sale in tourist trap locations all over the country. Chase told me that this is called flintknapping.
Flintknapping is the process of making stone tools using traditional methods. Today, it is done as a hobby. In the past, it was a vital part of everyday life to know how to make these tools.
“[They] use a variety of different types of what flintknappers call ‘hammers’. These could be different sized stones that they use, a hammer stone, or the different parts of an antler, like the base part of an antler. Or [they could use] the tip of an antler as like a punch. And then they take chips of stone off of a larger stone, and turn it into an arrowhead,” said Chase.
The first hint as to whether an arrowhead is genuine or hobby-made the context of where it was found.
“If an arrowhead is found in a farmer’s field where they might have plowed over an archeological site then it is not so likely to be fake,” said Chase.
Most old arrowheads will have a patina, imperfections and a rough and discolored surface.Old arrowheads are also more likely to have flaws than their hobby-made counterparts. They often have chips and flaws from times that they may have been re-sharpened or broken and discarded.
Arrowheads made as a hobby are crafted to show off the hobbyist’s skill. “Flintknappers, who do it as a hobby, will be very precise,” said Chase.
He then brought out some hobby-made arrowheads to show me. I was shocked by the obvious difference. As he said, the new ones were incredibly precise, often with very fine flakes, rather than the wide chips on the arrowhead that I’d found.
So, was my arrowhead the real deal? Yes, it was.
I then had to set about identifying it, and I wanted to know if some novice, layperson like myself could do that.
“There are really comprehensive books that are designed for that exact purpose. It’s a hobby like bird watching is a hobby. Yeah, it’s totally possible for a layperson to identify arrowheads,” Chase said.
So, I dug into the books. There were so many and it took time. But I believe I’ve gotten a good approximation of the time period that my arrowhead belongs to. It is a part of the Godar Notched Point Cluster.
These points can be found from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River and date to around 3500 B.C. This one was likely made by a member of the Potawatomi Tribe, as that is the tribe that lived in the area that I live in. Perhaps it was even made by a member of the Pokagon Band, the descendants of whom still live there.
So, then we come to why this matters. It is so incredible to hold something so old, so distant, yet so tied to the land that I grew up on.
Chase summed it up quite well. “Beautiful objects like these arrowheads provide a sense of connection between the present and the past, between the modern and the ancient.”
Arrowheads, and other like projectile points, were made across the planet for tens of thousands of years.
“We humans living today would not be here if it were not for ancient people using tools like this to survive,” said Chase.
It is possible that you may have come across an arrowhead or two that you are equally curious about, so I asked Chase how a person could dig into identifying such an object.
“I am really willing to show people where the resources are and set them down with a magnifying glass and a couple of books,” said Chase. “If you’ve got an arrowhead and you want to try to identify what it is and where it came from, bring it over.”