2017-10-05 / Opinions


Hunting for arrowheads
a southern writer

Growing up with no brothers and no neighbor kids, most days I didn’t have anyone to toss a baseball to me. No problem. I threw it onto the roof of my parents’ home. I was tossing and catching a ball one afternoon when it bounced off my glove into the grass beside a smoky quartz arrowhead, beautiful and perfect. Stumbling across that arrowhead is a memory that’s long held me for a simple reason: the most beautiful arrowhead I ever found was an accident. Finding arrowheads I would learn isn’t easy. Look for some and see if you have any luck. It takes patience.

Back in childhood, some Sunday afternoons after a rain, Dad and I would search newly plowed fields for rocks shaped by ancient hands. Every rock seemed to be an arrowhead or bird point as some accurately identify them. It’s a strange thing. Sometimes we imagine we see what we’re looking for and that is the case with millions of rocks that look like arrowheads until you pick them up. Using a walking stick to turn over promising rocks I’d bend over and check out my finds. Almost always I had simply found a broken rock that resembled an arrowhead. So, more often than not I came up empty, but when I found an arrowhead, what magic. I was touching an artifact made by a Cherokee or Creek Indian. (I don’t use the bland, academic “Native American.” A Catawba Indian I interviewed insisted I used the term “Indian.” That’s good enough for me.)

It’s rare now that I look for arrowheads but I still have an urge to do it. Soon, when time allows, I’ll head home and explore the edges of Clark Hill Lake while the water’s down, a happy hunting ground, if you’ll pardon my pun. I may be doing so at risk, however. Hunting for arrowheads just isn’t the same. Now some states have laws against removing artifacts from the ground. This law especially applies to public lands, state parks, etc. Here it needs to be explained that surface hunting and digging are two different things. Don’t dig up a place looking for artifacts. Just look for what’s lying on the surface. Check the laws so you are informed as picking up an arrowhead goes. I read where an amateur archaeologist admonished people not to pick up arrowheads because they “don’t belong to you.” Don’t trespass. If you want to search for arrowheads on private land, get permission up front. It’s hard to believe, but you hear of people getting fined and arrested for picking up arrowheads.

Like most childhood joys, man kills what used to be carefree fun. Life was simpler when I was a boy. If I saw an arrowhead I picked it up. No worries. I never found that many, so I guess I can rest easy at night. After all, it’s not like I was raiding Pocahontas’ grave. I can tell you this, however. Sunday afternoons spent looking for arrowheads were exciting times, and I especially remember a field in Lincoln County, Georgia now covered by woods. In the 1960s it was a field suffering erosion. Gullies and ruts ran through it, and rain runoff exposed new finds. If you knew just where to look, you’d spot fragments of pottery and occasionally a nice arrowhead. My grandmother found doll faces and several axe heads in that field. Would I? Walking through that field was more exciting than anything I did in those days. Picking up an arrowhead felt special and it brought up a lot of questions. Who made it? How did they make it? How did it get here? Did it kill something? A man? A rabbit? How long has it been waiting for me to find it? Thousands of years? Did an Indian throw it away because it wasn’t perfect? Maybe, but it was priceless to me. An ancient Indian had transformed an ordinary rock into something magical and I held it in my hand.

And then there were the rocks themselves. Most arrowheads were fashioned from flint rocks. Now and then I’d find one made from chert. I met a fellow who showed me a gorgeous obsidian arrowhead. It had to have arrived in the South as a result of trading. I don’t know of any volcanoes in Georgia or South Carolina. And then there was that beautiful smoky quartz arrowhead my baseball found.

Back in the spring I had a rare chance to look for arrowheads. I found what appeared to be an arrowhead. It’s not an arrowhead but a projectile point of some type, with its upper left third broken away. It’s two inches and a quarter long and one inch and a quarter wide. (I’ll probably get arrested for writing this column.)

Today if you find an arrowhead the so-called do-gooder experts advise you to take a photo of it and leave it where you found it. Really? I’d love to take my grandkids arrowhead hunting but so-called do-gooder experts now try to make you feel bad for doing that. Instead of giving the kids a chance to enjoy something I did and a history lesson to boot, I’d have to fill their young minds with laws and such and take a bit of shine off that dime.

I just have one thing to say to socalled do-gooder experts. The next time you spot a quarter on the ground you better not pick it up. It doesn’t belong to you.

(Visit Tom Poland’s website at www.tompoland.net or email him about most anything at tompol@earthlink.net.)

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