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Shannon Graham was just 8 years old when he noticed an odd-shaped rock on the ground at his feet. When he picked it up and knocked the dirt off it, Graham had a feeling it was no ordinary stone. The flat, triangle-shaped rock had a sharp point, serrated edges and deep notches at the base of the triangle. He soon learned it was a perfect primitive stone arrowhead that dated back at least 1,500 years.
That point turned out to be the start of a lifelong passion for hunting Native American artifacts like arrowheads, spear points, stone knives and other stone tools. Graham not only has hundreds of other stone implements that he found over the years, he actually started a website, arrowheadology.com, dedicated to his passion. He’s not alone. Thousands of men and women all over the United States spend their free time walking fields and farms in search of historic Native American artifacts that can be up to 15,000 years old.
“It’s a great reason to get outside, but there’s really something special about finding a rock that someone else held in their hands thousands of years ago,” says Graham, a 41-year-old Austin, Texas, resident.
You don’t have to live in Texas to find evidence of early man in North America. There are artifacts generously scattered in every state. While it is possible to find a point or some other implement lying on the ground just about anywhere, Graham says you’ll have better luck if you look in specific types of places no matter where you search. Early humans typically camped near water, so major rivers and larger streams are always a good starting place, but certain geographical features are even better.
“If you can find a flat area where a stream or spring enters a larger river, you’ve found a real good place to start looking. Also, a high, flat spot like a bluff along a river or a hill near the junction of a creek and river is also good because those were prime campsites, as well,” explains Graham.
Of course, if those prime areas are forested or covered under grass or some other vegetation, actually finding an artifact might be impossible. That’s why Graham focuses his search on areas with bare ground, particularly fields that have been plowed. He also searches in gullies and washes, and other veteran artifact hunters look on gravel bars in stream beds. Ideally, however, Graham likes plowed fields along rivers and he prefers to walk those fields right after a strong rain.
“You’ll see so much more when the rocks have been rinsed by a hard rain,” he says.
Even with those perfect ingredients, actually spotting an artifact on the ground takes some skill. Beginners tend to look for an entire arrow or spear point lying on top of the ground. Sometimes, that’s exactly what they see. However, most points are at least partially covered by dirt, even after a rain, so instead of looking for an entire triangle, look for a different type of rock, a sharp edge or a just a small part of the artifact. The more practice you have, the better you’ll become at identifying those treasures.
So once you develop that expertise, what do you do with your prizes? There is a network of collectors who buy and sell Native American artifacts, with some of the most unique points selling for thousands of dollars. Most hobby arrowhead hunters like Graham would never consider selling their discoveries. They build glass-cased coffee tables and elaborate display cases to show off their most prized artifacts to anyone willing to look at them.
“To me the value is in the history I’m holding in my hand,” says Graham. “There’s a connection to the past that can’t be bought or sold. Think about it: Another human held that rock thousands of years ago and used it for his survival.”
Head Hunting Etiquette
Always ask permission before walking private property. Offer to share your find with the landowner.
It is generally illegal to take artifacts from state or federal-owned land. Check local laws.
If you find an area with lots of high-quality artifacts, consider calling the state archaeological association. You may have found a historically important site.