Arrowhead Hunting Primer
by William Bauer
This basic guide will help you get started.
Perfect arrowheads are rare and much care should be taken when bringing them back home and displaying them. If you find an arrowhead in the field, DO NOT put it in your pants pocket. You can snag the tips and barbs on your shirt and chip them. Carry a small cloth or a paper towel, and wrap the arrowhead. Then place the wrapped point in a small box. Many people use ALTOIDS tins or any similar sized small box. It's a harsh lesson to learn if you break a personal find on the way back to the car.
I do not recommend carrying your artifact around in your bare hand while you continue hunting or walking back to the car. Secure your finds immediately.
One old-timer I know told me a story of how he found an EXTREMELY RARE Clovis point and put it in his back pocket while he continued hunting. An hour later he sat down to eat lunch and broke the Clovis point in half. He had forgotten it was in his back pocket. He still hasn't gotten over it, and that happened 30 years ago.
The most common way to display arrowheads are in glass front wooden frames. These display frames can be bought for about $30 online and even cheaper at Indian artifact shows. The frames are about 2 inches deep, and have felt covered foam inside them. The foam allows the artifacts to be held securely between the glass and the felt covered foam. Choose a color of felt that contrasts with your arrowheads.
Typing Your Finds
Once you find an arrowhead, you will want to determine its type and age. This can be accomplished with typology guides. By matching the shapes and sizes of your finds to the pictures in the guides, you will be able to identify the type and age of your find. Experienced arrowhead hunters buy regional guides or state specific guides. You will find more accurate information buying the smaller regional type guide written by archaeologists than you will buying a 50 state pricing guide published by Indian artifact dealers. Many state-specific artifact books are available. Find one for your state or region by attending an Indian Artifact Show and looking at the tables with books.
The purpose of this arrowhead hunting primer is to allow a beginner to quickly learn enough information to know what to look for and where to start searching, so they can get outdoors and do some enjoyable hunting. Once you start finding artifacts, you will want to do research to refine your techniques and improve the number and quality of your finds.
When you decide to learn more, keep in mind my guide for arrowhead hunting:
The Ultimate Guide to Indian Artifact Hunting
I find arrowheads every weekend year round. My book ARROWHEAD ADVENTURES explains the tools, strategies, and technology I use to accomplish this. This is a comprehensive guide with on-topic anecdotal stories and color pictures in each chapter.
Plowed fields are great places to find artifacts. Look for freshly plowed fields near a river or lake. If you can locate an Indian camp in a plowed field it can be a real bonanza. Be sure to ask permission from the farmer BEFORE just heading out into their field. Hunting private property with landowner permission is your safest bet.
Other people will be an invaluable resource for the beginner. Local farmers know their land better than anyone else, and are an excellent source of information. Word of mouth can be a great way to learn the location of Indian camps.
Flakes removed during the process of flintknapping. Flakes come in all shapes, colors, and sizes.
Beginners have a difficult time differentiating flint flakes from natural rock flakes. During my first year of arrowhead hunting my most asked question was "Is this an Indian flint flake?" Being able to tell if a flint flake is man made is a critical skill for an arrowhead hunter.
The main characteristic of a man-made flint flake is the "bulb of force." This bulb of force is created when the flint knapper hits or pushes a flake off a rock. The size of the bulb is proportionate to the thickness of the flake. Thick flakes have large bulbs, thin flakes have very small bulbs.
I knapped a flake from a piece of burlington chert I found in a creek. This rock is stained orange on the outside from being submerged for many years in water.
ABOVE: If an arrowhead hunter doesn't come along and rescue this artifact, it will be washed downstream and broken to pieces on the other rocks. Surface hunting arrowheads is RESCUING them from certain destruction.
So where do I look?
The best place to find artifacts is in Indian camps. Indian camps are spaced along trails, rivers, creeks, and lakes. Looking near water sources is your best bet. While a human can survive over a month with no food, he could die in only 3 days without water. Indians camped near conveniently accessible water sources for this reason.
Guide to Indian Artifact Hunting
The domed shape nipple is the "bulb of force". Natural flakes will not have this bulb of force.
Many camps are located where two watercourses meet. Look for high spots along the river. Springs are another good location for campsites. High cut-banks are good places to look for these newly eroded artifacts.
There are hundreds of flint chips left over from the making of each arrowhead. These flint flakes are found in vast numbers on some Indian camps, but may be a just a light scattering on others. Either way, when you see flint chips, you should search the area slowly and carefully. Flint chips indicate Indian occupation, and there will be arrowheads nearby.
Once you locate an Indian camp, you need to search it systematically. If you are lucky enough to find a plowed field containing flint flakes, search it grid style, back and forth. Search slowly, it's easy to miss an artifact.
Be sure to check every flake by flipping it. You won't always find an arrowhead exposed. Sometimes only a piece of an edge, a tip, or an ear will be showing, and it you will not know you have an artifact until you flip it out.
Using a hammerstone, I struck the rock in this position with a downward / inward blow.
Later when Indians developed agriculture and a more sedentary lifestyle, their camps were occupied continuously for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years. Arrowheads of all sizes and types were made, stored, misplaced, and hidden all around these camps. When an arrow missed its mark it could easily be lost in grass, brush, or snow. The shaft disintegrates over time, and the stone point remains, waiting for you to find it.
How to Identify Indian Artifacts
It can be difficult for a beginner to tell whether what he has found is in fact an Indian artifact. When arrowheads are made, a series of long, thin flakes are removed one at a time from a rock. Each flake removed leaves a "flake scar." The presence of flake scars is what confirms you have found an artifact. An Indian artifact will be covered over its entire surface with small "channels" (flake scars) left over from flake removals.
How Many Arrowheads are left?
There are literally millions of arrowheads yet to be discovered in the landscape of North America. For the vast majority of the time humans have been living here, stone tools were the main technology used for survival. Each Indian made many arrowheads each year, and many are still intact, even after thousands of years.
Why would an Indian leave an intact stone tool? Many were simply dropped or misplaced. Archaeological evidence indicates early inhabitants of North America were a mobile society who followed migrations of game animals. These patterns often led to a yearly cycle of movements following animal herds. Carrying a bunch of stone tools around would not have been easy. For this reason, arrowheads, spear points, and knives, as well as stone blanks, were cached in places the Indians knew they would be returning to. Many times these tools were never retrieved.
Only the tip and the edge of the blade were showing on this plowed field find from spring 2014.
Beginner to Expert level arrowhead hunting guide.
Read ARROWHEAD ADVENTURES
and learn how to find Indian camps.
It's a safe bet to hunt where arrowheads have been found before. When you look in supposedly "hunted out" places, at least you know you are looking in and Indian camp. I have found many nice artifacts looking in places I was told were hunted out.
Finding artifacts can be difficult for beginners, that's why they call it "arrowhead hunting" and not "arrowhead finding." Don't give up, there are camps along trails, rivers, and streams in every state of the union. Arrowhead hunting requires a good "never say die" attitude. If it was too easy, it wouldn't be nearly so fantastic when you do find success.
How Do I Know I am in an Indian Camp?
Look for flint chips. Flint chips (also called flint flakes) are thin pieces of rock left over from the manufacture of arrowheads (called flint knapping). This is another area where research will help you. Go to your local library and find some books on flintknaping and stone tool technology.