In the late summer of 1970, I reported to high school in an upstate South Carolina town that was unknown to me. My father had taken a new job there. The town, the people, and even the climate was different from the part of the state where I had lived most of my childhood. This was hill country. Some of the mountains that form the southern portion of the Appalachian mountain range were less than fifty miles away. A chance meeting that fall with a young man who was my neighbor, led me to discover history in the area in a most profound way. I found something that another human being lost approximately 8,000 – 9,500 years earlier!
Where to Look
At the ripe old age of twenty-two, my neighbor was seven years older than me. He was an only child, who still lived with his parents. Indirectly, he worked for an electric power company. He didn’t elaborate, but I suspect that he actually worked for a small company that was under contract with the area power company, for his job was to clear brush and small trees that grew under the long rural power transport lines. The nature of the work required him to remain with a work crew for days at a time. He was part of a team of ten young men who methodically hacked their way through sapling trees and vegetation that had been growing for fifteen years or more. They had chain saws, and loppers, but portable wood chippers did not exist then. Most of what they cut had to be hand-loaded onto flatbed trucks and hauled away. My neighbor and his fellow workers camped out at the last place they cleared. He told me that he liked it. It brought back memories of his boy scout camping trips. Plus, he was also a member of a South Carolina National Guard infantry company, and he believed that the camp outs prepared him for the possibility that he may have to go to war. The Vietnam War was heating up. “Search in the clear spaces,” he told me. It was not that American native tribal peoples (we used to say Indians) only lost their arrows in clear spaces. Rather, it was easier to find the arrowheads in such locations.
A Personal Adventure
He warned me to look for them alone, for it had been his experience that an accompanying greenhorn would make the find that he would have had. Also, he advised me to tell only him when I found an arrowhead. Otherwise, I might cause a stampede of searchers, like finders of gold cause when they go public with the news of their newly found gold nugget. I did not realize it at the time, but my neighbor had become a big brother to me. I was the eldest of three brothers. I was the one who looked after my two younger brothers. My neighbor looked out for me when he was home. But, we never hunted for the arrowheads together. Instead, we shared the stories of our searches. Mostly, he searched near the many places where he camped out. I searched the fields and woodland hills within five miles of my house. I searched for nearly a month without finding any proof that there ever were tribal people on the land. Then, on one sunny day, a searched a washed out section of sandy soil where the clay under the sand was exposed by erosion. Scrub pine trees took root wherever they could. I searched an elevated area, and happened to gaze to where I might search next. I saw it, plain as daylight! Nearly ten yards away, I spied a quarter-sized pointed quartz rock. The sand around it had been washed away so that it sat in plain view for someone who had been taught to recognize such shapes. I will never forget the day that I found it. I had no camera, but the memory rests in my mind like a photograph. I stared at it for a long time before I touched it. I did have a compass. The native who loosed the arrow had fired true west at some game animal or perhaps an enemy tribesman. He lost the arrow. Likely, the arrowhead remained where the arrow had fallen, even after the wooden shaft had turned to sawdust. I picked it up. It was a solid piece of quartz, which is a very hard rock. Yet, the native who shaped it had created a sharp edge on both sides down from the point, and he notched the serrations so that the arrow would not easily fall away from his target. Clearly, the arrowhead was designed to penetrate and hold fast in a large game animal. The base of the arrowhead was flat, with a superb fastening notch installed on either side. That would have permitted the native to tie a leather or gut fastener (string made from animal parts) to hold the arrowhead fast to the arrow shaft. Visit the website: http://www.projectilepoints.net/ to view an arrowhead identification guide.
Before Present (BP) is how arrowhead hunters define the native cultural time period that is associated with an arrowhead find. My first arrowhead, and those that I found subsequently, fell into the Early Archaic (7,000 – 10,000 BP) time span. My first find is a Palmer design. See the lower middle photograph in that design for South Carolina arrowheads in the notched (expanding stem) category of the projectile points website. I found about 30 other arrowheads in that area, of various designs, including: Savannah River, Pickwick, Little Bear Creek, Kirk Stemmed, Appalachian, Bakers Creek, Kirk Serrated Bifurcated, Benton, and Bolen Bevel. I also found a native hoe or ax head. About two years after I started hunting for the native artifacts, I found evidence of their village or campsite on a raised piece of land that would have provided the natives with a view and some protection. The site contained stone shards, several broken or partially finished arrowheads, and a Waller knife. I sometimes camped out near the site and had foolishly used one of the artifacts (a softball-sized stone) to ring my fire pit. I finally recognized that the stone was notched and flat on one end. It was either used as a hoe, an axe or possibly a hammer. The site contained some triangular flint arrowheads which are not native to South Carolina. My theory is that the natives traded with other tribes. It is known that today’s Appalachian Trail was an expansive native footpath and trading route that spanned from the Southeast (state of Georgia) to the northeast (state of Maine).
Sometimes I write what my fingers type. Tomorrow is Memorial Day. My mind had wandered to my memory of my “big brother”. His National Guard unit was mobilized. He did serve in Vietnam. I don’t know if he survived. I went to college while he was there, and my father took a new job. I never returned to that part of South Carolina. But, I won’t lose the memory of him, and I will not part with the arrowhead. To a tribal native long ago, the arrowhead was his creation, a means to get food, and a way to protect himself. To me, it is a great memory of a moment in my life, and of how I got that memory from the kindness of a generous person whom I happened to meet. Since that time, I have disciplined myself to meet new people wherever I go. I do not squander an opportunity to learn something new. Every chance meeting is like finding an arrowhead that was lost BP.