Wednesday, July 20, 2005


From time to time, as I am gardening or digging, I will turn up an arrowhead. This always stops me in my tracks as the thousands of years that separate me from the original Floridians melt away. For a moment I just stare at it, knowing that the moment I pick it up, I become the next human to touch it since that paleoIndian thousands of years before. And we are talking thousands of years.

The most common arrowheads in Florida are those from the Archaic period...6000 B.C. to 1200 B.C.
Actually, they aren't really "arrowheads", these are larger, heavier, and were probably hefted to short spears. The original Floridians used a throwing device known as an "atlatl". It is essentially a throwing stick that allows the thrower to apply greater force than throwing with the arm alone. The short spears that are thrown by an atlatl were often fletched with feathers (like arrows) to give them a ballistic spin. This increases accuracy.

So, I pause for a moment and then pick up the point. I turn it in my hands, run my fingers over the still sharp edges, and savor the connection to the past. That's when the questions start...Did you drop it? Was it lost in a tribal conflict? Did you hit that deer, but not find your wounded prey? What did this property look like then, was it covered with massive trees or was it an open savannah? Did you live on "my" land or just hunt here?

Most of these questions remain unanswered of course. The spear point is silent. It's really the flint chips I find that give me a little more information. They turn up more frequently than the actual spearpoints.The thin, sharp flakes of cherty flint are the result of someone sitting around and knapping points.

The flakes tell me you weren't just passing through in pursuit of game. Mostly the flakes stir more questions...Was this place a hunt camp? Just a place to eat, rest, and replace points lost or broken in the days hunt? Or did you come here to mine the raw chert to knapp points?

My property is high in the center and slopes towards the front. In the northeast corner, if you dig down through the sand to a depth of 2 feet your shovel will strike limestone. Florida spearpoints are mostly made of chert, a type of hard limestone that is common in this area. The first Floridians heated the chert in fires before working the stone. The heat caused a chemical change in the rock that allowed better knapping and stronger, sharper points.

I ponder these questions as I add the new point to our little collection. It's then that I realize I dropped my pocket knife while I was digging today. Made of stainless steel and plastic, it'll be there for thousands of years...waiting.


pablo said...

The words to describe how envious I am of your finds are not available in the language. Finding just one arrowhead is on my life list of things to do before I leave this place.

Hick said...

What a wonderful post! Hey! Wait a minute. It's summer. I'm not supposed to learn anything worth while in the summer. Too soon I will have to start homeschooling more brain candy for me, after that.

Really...a GREAT post. I love that kind of stuff.

Floridacracker said...

I look for them after rains. The rain makes them stand out from the sand, but your soil is so rocky (from your pictures) it would be a challenge to discern the points from the rocks. My best one was turned up by the Troybuilt tiller. Somehow the powerful tines missed it.

Haven't you ever heard of summer school? I have learned a ton blogging this summer. I know Jazz is a good dog, but not sociable, Rurality has a dog that eats duck eggs, Swamp4me is bug fearless, Roundrock really has round rocks (why?), Thingfish is stressing over neighborhood development, and Weary Hag knows a thing or 20 about why we blog...

Zanne said...

We look for them after the first tell of the field, which turns then up, and like Floridacracker said, they stand out against the dark Illinois topsoil.

Being an anthropology student I was required to take a class that included archaeological techniques and a field session on tool making. Make an arrowhead is a very, very difficult task without lots of practice. The larger scraping pieces are a bit easier.

When I was in Florida in February, I visited Wakiwa Springs, which was like stepping in a time machine. If you go to portion of the park where they teach controlled burn techniques you can really immerse yourself in what ancient Florida looked and smelled like. It was awesome!

thingfish23 said...


That's what blogging is all about. Right there.

You've reset the bar.

And, like Pablo, I'm a little bit jealous. But in a nice way. It's better to have these things unearthed by caring hands than a bulldozer.

More power to ya.

Floridacracker said...

I know the park it is a beautiful place...been a while since I was there. Hope you canoed the run. Your comment made me envious, it must be nice to have dark topsoil instead of ancient beach sand...

Thanks for the generous comment. Keep your eyes peeled, you are in Calusa territory down in Collier. Get a copy of "Florida's First People" by Robin Brown. Cool book for any Floridaphile to have.

Weary Hag said...

Excellent post indeed; truly interesting and informative! The fact that you include photos makes your efforts all the more appreciated. What a great place to live and amazing items to dig up. Lucky you!

Floridacracker said...

Thanks for the kind comments. When I figure out my present Picasa-Hello glitch, I have a crawfish pic to post. I really enjoyed your crawfish in the workout room post. Take care.