Arrowheads and Spear Points in the Prehistoric Southeast: A Guide to Understanding Cultural Artifacts
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Sooner or later, each variety will be found in datable contexts, and we will then be able to determine their ages directly. Thus, point guides will need to be refined and updated, a process made easier through the Internet. You can help with this continual process by recording your finds and letting archaeologists document them through photography and measurements. Identifying the source of the stone used to manufacture specific points can also be difficult. Some materials such as Knife River flint and jasper taconite are fairly distinctive, and it is generally not difficult to separate Prairie du Chien chert from Galena or Moline cherts.
However, nearly all flint sources exhibit stone of considerable variation in color and quality, and there are many look-alikes. For example, until the s nearly every silicified sandstone artifact found in the Upper Mississippi Valley was classified as having been made of material from the well-known Silver Mound source in western Wisconsin. But subsequent identification of numerous other silicified sandstone source areas, including several extensive prehistoric workshops that have produced flakes of color and texture that rival that of Silver Mound, make definitive identifications problematic.
Because specific sources are usually from discrete geological formations, fossil inclusions, structural properties, and mineralogical content are useful keys for identification.
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For example, a distinctive attribute of Burlington chert is the inclusion of fossil crinoids, but these are sometime microscopic. Mineral and structural analyses often require specialized technologies that are generally done at geological laboratories and usually involve partial destruction of a specimen, such as thin sectioning or neutron activation analysis.
Fortunately, new and less-destructive analyses are continually being developed.
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Because of the importance of material identification to understanding past cultural ranges and interaction networks, many professional archaeological institutes have established comparative lithic collections with examples from source areas. Many people collect spear tips, arrowheads, and other artifacts from plowed fields in the Upper Mississippi Valley. Besides being a pleasant hobby, collecting these artifacts can tell us which culture lived at each site, how old the site is, how people survived, and which trade networks they may have used.
Archaeology has a long history of private collectors making significant contributions by sharing their knowledge. Unfortunately, a few untrained people dig into sites or actively buy and sell artifacts, forever destroying critical information needed to interpret the past. Archaeological sites are nonrenewable resources of our collective heritage. Once destroyed they are gone forever, and with them goes all potential understanding of the past cultures that occupied those sites. In the years from to farming, town development, and road construction obliterated nearly 80 percent of the thousands of mounds that once dotted the Upper Mississippi Valley before legislation finally protected those that remained.
Now urban sprawl has accelerated the destruction of the irreplaceable archaeological record.
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It is imperative that we all contribute to preserving as much as possible. Collecting artifacts gives you two options: you can do it ethically and contribute to an understanding of the past, or you can do it selfishly and destroy the record. Note that ethical collecting begins with landowner permission, and it is illegal to collect from any public land, including nearly all of the Upper Mississippi River floodplain.
Once permission is obtained from private landowners, you can contribute to archaeological research by following these few simple practices. When you find artifacts, note where you found them as precisely as possible. In the long run, these will be much more valuable to you than a set of artifacts from places long since forgotten.
Keep items found at individual sites separate from those found elsewhere. Simple recording systems such as numbering sites works very well. All Rights Reserved. Shipping Notes. Related Titles:. Hester, Richard L McReynolds. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology In: Ramenofsky, A.
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