If you have ever wandered a trail in the southwest United States, you likely have passed over a number of artifacts from the original inhabitants of the area. To the untrained eye, the arrowheads and artifacts of those ancient settlers are often indistinguishable from chipped rocks. However, if you learn what to look for and where to look for it, you could turn a casual stroll into a expedition of history.
What to Look For
Most Native American tools were made of antler, bone and chert, or flint. Chert has a glass-like finish that makes it easy to spot when it is moistened. Your primary searches should be for palm-sized or smaller bits of flint with a mostly symmetric shape. Many hunters who are looking only for the conventional arrowhead shape often overlook the more rare scrapers and tools. If you pick up a piece and it appears to have many small chips in it that do not look like natural wear, you have likely found an artifact. If it looks interesting, take it for expert examination.
Along the trails of many southwestern states, you'll often find flat elevated outcroppings of rock surrounded by an inordinate amount of chert shards. These are often the work sites where natives crafted their tools. A careful search of an ancient work site can reveal points, or arrowheads, scrapers or other tools in various stages of completion. Because of the techniques and materials they used, it was common for a native to make several failed attempts at a tool before creating a useful one. The only downside to these sites is that you'll seldom find a completed artifact.
Fields and Streams
Fields and dry stream beds are favorites for artifact hunters for good reason. You are more likely to find intact artifacts there than in any other place. However, these are often well-hunted areas may be picked over by other searchers. Look in those same areas immediately following a rainstorm or other violent weather, when you might find artifacts revealed by the weather. Animal activity can also reveal tools as well. If the field you are searching has cows, look near their feeders and watering stations, as they often remove layers of topsoil.
Middens are prehistoric "kitchens" where natives brought their foods for preparation and consumption. Most of these began as elevated pits, but over time many have been weathered to the point that they resemble mounds. If you notice a large circular mound, or a known midden, it may hold a repository of artifacts, but it might require some digging. In coastal regions, middens often contain tens of thousands of shells and bones from edible mollusks and sea life in addition to cutters and scrapers and arrowhead points. Inland middens can contain a broad array of tools and bones.
It should go without saying that no one should remove artifacts from parks or public recreation areas without a permit to do so. However, you will need the consent of the owner of a property before you can search it. Many farmers will gladly allow such searches if you call ahead of time; others may ask for a small fee. In any hunt, try to disturb the land as little as possible and leave it as close to the original condition as you can.
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