My wife, Greta, found a few black obsidian chips first, exposed by a hard rain. The place was a perfect campsite near our home—flat, sheltered, with good tree cover and water close at hand. No matter what century you live in, a good campsite is a good campsite.
Both of us gave the spot for a closer look. There were two mortar holes in the bedrock beneath a rock overhang. There were fire-blackened stones scattered nearby under the sagebrush, more obsidian chips and also chips of red chert, white quartzite and other glass-like volcanic materials of green, brown and tan used by Native Americans to make projectile points.
Greta yelled and I knew she had made a find. Among all the chips, a small but perfect red arrowhead lay sparkling like a jewel. It had been hand-crafted by an ancient hunter sometime during the past several thousand years—a hunter after the same deer, elk, mountain sheep and bear that still roam the area today. A chill rippled down my spine.
We searched some more and Greta found a stone hide scraper, a spear point, another arrowhead and the broken tip of a knife. I guess I am more cut out to look for animals, because all I found was one slightly disfigured obsidian projectile point. Greta won’t let me live that one down, but it was still an exciting discovery!
Tapping Our Roots
Surface hunting Indian artifacts has been a passion of mind since I was a kid. I grew up near the home territory of Ishi, America’s last wild Indian and the one who taught Saxton Pope and Art Young (namesakes of the famous Pope and Young Record Club) to hunt with bow-and-arrow. I possess a large collection of arrowheads, ornamental shell beads, mortar bowls and pestles, and other treasures discarded over 4,000 years in that part of northern California.
Looking for ancient artifacts where you live can be almost as thrilling as hunting animals. Before you begin, be aware of antiquities laws, which prohibit arrowhead hunting on public land. You should only surface search on private property with written permission from the landowner. The penalties for breaking these rules are severe.
Every part of the United States and Canada holds a treasure trove of relics from ancient American hunters—treasures just waiting to be found by persistent and sharp-eyed enthusiasts.
The best places to look are logical campsites and hunting grounds, usually near permanent water. Arrowheads often glitter on the surface immediately after a hard rain. Tilled farm fields are prime places to search, too. Some excellent reference books are available at libraries and bookstores that detail stone artifacts and where to look for them.
There is no better off-season way to have fun and share a kinship with hunters gone by!