(This article was originally published in the May/June issue of “Playlist,” the bi-monthly magazine put out by the Morning News of Florence, and is re-published here courtesy of BH Media.)
The names snap off the tongue with the accent of antiquity: Cheraw, Waccamaw, Chicora, Lumbee, Santee. And what do these have in common? They were all left to us by the Native Americans who first peopled the Pee Dee region of South Carolina many thousands of years ago.
And not only did they leave behind names of towns, communities, and even the river by which our area is now known, but they also left relics of their existence, treasures that some outdoor enthusiasts value as much as a trophy buck, long-bearded tom turkey, or lunker largemouth bass.
What treasure you might ask? Why beautiful and often intricately shaped stones fashioned into weapons such as arrowheads or spear-points, ancient tools, and even ceremonial pieces.
Long a popular pastime of a knowing few, searching for Indian artifacts — or arrowhead hunting as it is more commonly known — is an easy and inexpensive hobby to develop. In fact, all that is really required is permission from a landowner, a healthy curiosity, a pair of old shoes, a walking stick, and a willingness to spend more time outdoors.
And discovering one of these timeless treasures, some of which date back thousands of years, is a thrilling experience as each is a one-of-a-kind work of art, created by ancient craftsmen using only stone, bone, and antler.
Realizing that the simple, yet finely crafted tool or weapon in your hand has laid undisturbed and awaiting discovery for perhaps a hundred centuries, has a way of truly connecting you with the land. At times, it’s impossible not to wonder about the person who created the piece. Who was he? Or was it she? How did this stone factor into their daily lives?
Residing in the Pee Dee, chances are good that you live within a few miles of an ancient Native American village, encampment, or hunting site, and getting started can be as easy as doing a little basic research. Simply asking local farmers and hunters if they’ve inadvertently stumbled upon an arrowhead can often lead an artifact hunter in the right direction, plus lead to permission to access private land, and perhaps even result in the name of another local artifact enthusiast being passed along.
The most common artifact hunting technique is simply taking a well-timed walk through a freshly-plowed field, preferably soon after an inch or more of rain has rinsed loose dirt, settled dust, and compacted the soil. In the Pee Dee, almost any farmed hill or high spot located near a natural water source is worthy of at least a cursory look. Additional prime hunting spots are relatively-barren sandy areas around Carolina Bays, which provided an ideal location for a people without the means to easily or quickly clear a living area, and which also held water, serving their needs and also drawing game animals to the area.
Other “new” locations still continually arise as a result of the modern trend toward pine tree cultivation. Large tracts of land are left practically undisturbed for a decade or more, then periodically clear-cut before being replanted. Land managed in this fashion can present unique hunting opportunities that can lead to the find of a lifetime for those lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.
Once a site has been recognized as an encampment or village, other equally interesting remnants of early Native American life can be found, and one needs to be forewarned not to limit the search solely to “arrowheads” – which is actually a misnomer as many such identified objects are actually knives, spear or harpoon points, or tools that were used to clean game or craft items such as baskets or clothing, but to also be on the lookout for trader pipes or bowl-shaped mortar stones used for grinding and hand-sized hammer-stones used as their name implies and easily identified by one end, or both, clearly marked by extensive use.
In short, anything might just turn up – if you’re there to find it.
So, If you’re a sportsman lamenting the post-season absence of the thrill of the hunt, or just someone looking to get outdoors to enjoy a little rewarding exercise, what are you waiting for? The season lasts twelve months, the timing is right, spring is soon to be upon us, and those treasures are waiting. Make a few inquiries, grab an old pair of shoes and head for the fields.
Make a “point” of it.