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.
Posted by R.Powers at 2:36 PM