Artifacts: Extremely Old Arrowheads: How to Spot Them

By Randy Gardner
 Several factors determine prehistoric arrowheads value: size, quality of workmanship, symmetry, beauty of material, and age. Though the first four are often self-evident and readily discerned, the last is not always so apparent but is the most important when assigning worth to old stone tools. Prospective buyers can utilize several techniques when trying to evaluate artifacts represented as very old and thus very valuable.
 As a result of years of applying dating techniques to bone, charcoal, and a variety of other materials, experts have devised a comprehensive chronology of prehistoric culture groups who have inhabited what is now the United States. Three broad groupings and the dates that accompany them include Late Prehistoric – A. D. 1 to the 1800s, Archaic – 6,000 B. C. to A. D. 1, and Paleo-Indian – 10,000 to 6,000 B. C.    Essentially, the farther back in the chronology a stone tool was produced, the more rare it is and the higher its value in today’s antiquities market. Cultures in the earliest of the three categories have been assigned geographically significant labels such as Clovis, Folsom, Goshen/Plainview, Hell Gap, Eden/Firstview, and others. Well-made, authentic arrowheads from the Clovis or Folsom eras can easily bring $5,000 to $10,000 each, while equally fine Late Prehistoric arrow points may bring $100, making age a most crucial factor.
 The most reliable method for determining artifact age is a certificate of authenticity, produced by an expert, guaranteeing that the tool is as old as the seller claims. Along with its age, the certificate names the culture group represented by the artifact, and references established terms like Clovis, Folsom, Hell Gap, and so on.
 For arrowheads priced at $1 00 or more, the seller customarily provides a ‘Certificate along with the item. If one is not offered, the buyer can request that one be obtained and defer purchase until the artifact evaluation has been completed. Sellers reluctant to supply normal authentication are often trafficking in fakes and should be avoided. To locate recognized authenticators, check for contact information in publications like Indian Artifact Magazine and Prehistoric Antiquities Quarterly.
 Another technique for establishing age is to examine the artifact for signs of use or wear. Wear indications occur in the form of small dings or damage to blades or tips and the smoothing of what had once been sharp edges. Overall shape is sometimes diagnostic, since it was common practice for prehistoric tool users was to resharpen dulled tips or blades became, slightly changing a symmetrical blade to one with an off-balanced form or even a distinctly diagonal bias.
 Additionally, a characteristic of freshly knapped flint is the presence of tiny opaque areas where the chipping tool didn’t cleanly remove flakes, while knives and arrowheads subjected to normal use have long since lost the opaque flakes, often along with some of their sharp edges.
Many old stone tools have patination from minerals adhering to them because of soils they’ve been buried in or exposed to as they’ve lain for hundreds of years in old lake beds or mineral-rich areas. Some minerals, like calcium and gypsum, form crusty deposits that vary noticeably from the original lithic material. Other patinas consist of algae which has grown on the surface of stone tools, just as it has done with other materials like moss rock in areas where conditions are favorable for such growths.
 In addition to other changes, there are alterations that indicate age and signify prehistoric use. Flint material heated before chipping to make it easier to flake often has a decidedly oily or greasy texture. Other stone subjected to high heat may show signs of having changed color, like red or orange becoming milky white. Flint artifacts used in close proximity to cooking fires also may have “pot lids” or circular fire-pitted areas on their surfaces. If these alterations are minor and superficial, they can provide clues to authenticity and won’t drastically lower the value of the artifact.
 A final word of caution would be the reminder that anytime a collectible item has the potential to be profitable, someone will find a way to replicate it. Being an informed buyer and watching for obvious fakes can help prevent problems when dealing with old Indian artifacts. Very old prehistoric artifacts can be intriguing and profitable if buyers and sellers attend to a few critical considerations: size, symmetry, quality of craftsmanship and beauty of material, authentic wear or use-alterations, patination, and certified authenticity.

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