Finding an Indian arrowhead in this part of Georgia is exciting but not particularly unusual. According to the archeologists, Indians have lived in this part of Georgia for more than 10,000 years and they were making stone implements for essentially all that time. For most of those thousands of years, the stone implements were spear points, axes, scrapers, knives and maybe other things, but not arrowheads. Arrowheads appeared only around 2,000 years ago.
Here is an arrowhead fragment I found around here a couple of years ago along with a complete arrowhead that Leah found when her parents were building their house in the early ‘60’s. I outlined the complete point and laid the fragment in it.
It seems clear to me that the fragment is part of a full point that would be very similar to the complete point. I’m going to call the point I found an “arrowhead” because it seems to be the right size and shape, but it might, in fact, be something else. I suspect that an expert would be able to identify the marks that the maker left when the point was chipped from the original source stone. But to me the shape in general is enough to convince me that it really is part of an arrowhead.
Here the fragment is in my hand to give an idea of the size.
The fragment appears to be made from chert. One Web site says that brown chert is common in southern Georgia, while gray or black chert is common in northwestern Georgia. The same site says that brown chert turns reddish when heated. The fact that Leah’s arrowhead is black is consistent with where she found it, but what about the reddish color of the fragment I found? Was it obtained in trade with Indians living further south?
I don’t know how many Indians lived around the Rome area through those thousands of years, but if you assume that as few as a couple of people who made or used projectile points lost or broke a couple each year, that would mean there were tens of thousands of projectile points scattered in the area. Maybe not as many arrowheads, but I’m going to make an uneducated guess that Indians might have lost or broken arrowheads at a higher rate than other stone implements. My guess is based on the relatively small size and the fact that arrowheads are shot from bows in ways that might make them hard to find if they missed their target. Even if that assumption is not true, if you assume a couple of lost or broken arrowheads every year from a given small population, there should still be at least a couple of thousand points in the area where that small population lived.
They would have to have been lost mainly in areas where they were made or used, so they are probably concentrated in some areas and scarce in others. The Rome area should be such a point. We know for sure that there was a reasonably large population not far from Rome, up the Etowah River near Cartersville, because they built large earth mounds there somewhere around 1,500 years ago. We also know that Indians caught fish in the rivers around here, because of the fishing weirs that still exist in the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers. It seems reasonable that the two rivers that meet in Rome would have provided a constant, reliable source of water for human and animal needs. Today there is a lot of game around our mountain, deer, squirrel, rabbit and turkey at least. I assume, maybe wrongly, that the same types of animals would have been here for thousands of years. There seems to be good reason for Indians to have uses their stone implements in this area, so, in my view, it’s not surprising that I found a projectile point. And the simple fact is that I did.
That leaves only the question of how I found it.
I was looking down as I walked. The arrowhead was lying on the ground surrounded by pieces of rock about the same size and color. If you had been trying to find a good place to hide an arrowhead in plain sight, it would have been a good choice. But my eye was drawn to it, and when I saw it I knew immediately what it was, despite the fact that it was not even a complete arrowhead.
I know in general how I did it. Humans have a remarkable ability to recognize patterns. The human visual system – the eye and brain – do this job so well that we seem to be forced to find patterns even when there are none. For example, constellations and images of Jesus on a piece of toast. But still, finding it was an amazing feat, even if I do say so myself.
I didn’t have a camera with me when I found the fragment, but I went back some time later and put it down in an area similar to where I found it. After putting it down I’m not sure that I could have found the fragment if I had walked away and come back the next day, even though I knew where I put it.
Here it is with a cheater arrow.
Here it is with a few rocks chosen from the area in the photograph.
It’s still kind of hard to see it, but you do the same thing pretty much every day. If you have ever become interested in something, say nice, round rocks, or box turtles, you are probably familiar with the way it seems like you start seeing them everywhere. They were always there, but your pattern recognition system has been trained to see them. Unconsciously you have identified some features of the thing you’re interested in, and your visual system automatically, with no conscious effort on your part, uses those features to discriminate between your object of interest, and everything else in the world.
I was not looking for anything in particular, much less arrowheads. And besides, it wasn’t even a whole arrowhead. Leah remains unsure that it is an arrowhead fragment. I understand pattern recognition, but I still don’t know how I recognized it so quickly and easily.
I do know that if you could turn what I did into a computer program, you could probably get a job in the field I used to work in (missile defense).