How to Hunt for Native American Arrowheads and Artifacts

Updated on October 17, 2019
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As a kid, I picked up the occasional arrowhead. As an adult, I've learned strategies to increase the likelihood of making discoveries.


Arrowheads Are Not Hard to Find

I loved the outdoors when I was a kid. Since I lived in a rural area, and I was outdoors as often as possible, I picked up the occasional arrowhead.

However, I was lucky enough to find about a dozen arrowheads, along with a bag full of pottery sherds, when land was being cleared for a lake. If I had only known then what I know now, I could have built a substantial collection in that one place, and I also could have found many more productive sites within walking distance from my home that do not exist today because of suburban sprawl.

And as long as that lake holds water, I'll never find another arrowhead there. But there are always other sites and places to look!

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Alabama Arrowhead
Alabama Arrowhead
Alabama Arrowhead

Look for Debitage

It might not make sense on the surface, but almost certainly "hunting for arrowheads" is the main reason a beginner usually doesn't find arrowheads. Instead of hunting for arrowheads, hunt for sites where arrowheads are likely to be found. Pinpoint a site by looking for debitage. Debitage is the term used by archaeologists to refer to the waste material left over from the production of a stone tool. It's very easy to spot once you learn to recognize it.

A big part of the equation, in my opinion, nothing else even comes close, is training the eye. Seasoned hunters really aren't looking for relics, per se—they are looking for the signs that lead them to relics. Once you spot debitage pick it up and study it. Draw conclusions as to what makes the debitage you have found different than the rest of the rocks you see all the time. Now look seriously for artifacts, walking in circles away from where you found the chips and flakes. Cover every piece of ground. If you find something, go back over every area that you think you've already looked. Once you have covered the area thoroughly, remember the spot and go back after a good rain and do it all over again. Sometimes it takes several rains to turn up new artifacts—it depends on the site and the rainfall.

Know the Most Common Arrowhead Shapes

Another common mistake beginners make is hunting for arrowheads—usually only in the shape of a Christmas tree—but ignoring the other tools that the Native Americans used in their daily lives such as scrapers, gravers, and choppers. I get a thrill every time I find an arrowhead, but the fact is that an arrowhead alone doesn't tell much of a story. I frame all of my finds by site, not by type, for that very reason.

Consider the Landscape

Eventually, as you begin to find debitage and finished artifacts, you'll train your eye to key in on things that look like an artifact because of shape, mineral type, color and patina. It will certainly come in time and probably sooner than you think.

In many ways Native Americans were not that much different than modern man, so when you are looking for an area to hunt think where you would want to walk, hunt and live. Trails were often across the highest ground and in hilly areas always crossed the passes. They lived near water, but not in it, so the first few rises from "old" water will probably be productive if there are cleared areas to search. Old water are rivers, streams, and lakes that have existed for thousands of years. Yes, I said thousands of years. Most people who haven't thought much about the subject, think these relics of the past are a few hundred years old and maybe date back to the first European explorers. Actually, only the most recent Native Americans are "only" hundreds of years old and finding 3,000-7,000-year-old relics is common. Native Americans left the Stone Age not long after the Europeans arrived.

Archaeologists and anthropologists do not all agree when the first Native Americans arrived on this continent, but most do believe that the first ones walked across an ice land bridge—which disappeared as the earth warmed—at least 12,000 years ago. From even that low estimate we can be certain that millions of Native Americans walked this continent before the Europeans arrived. That means that they left a lot of artifacts behind, and in fact, most of them will never be found.

Identifying Debitage

As mentioned before, an arrowhead hunter should be looking for debitage. When you find debitage, it is almost certain that you have also found a site where ancient man once engaged in the production of stone tools. Sometimes there is very little debitage which could mean that you have found a place where someone once stopped to chip out a tool. Other times you will find so much debitage that you can assume that you have found a camp or village site. Debitage can cover dozens of acres or more.

This is what debitage looks like in the field:

Most of the material in that photo is shale. There is a little sandstone. The material that appears mostly white is chert, which does not normally flake and chip naturally.

Here is a scanned photo of debitage:

Debitage and stone tools in my part of the country is mostly chert. I also find artifacts made of jasper and quartz.

Most new hunters are surprised at the amount of debitage that is out there once they learn what it looks like.

My Favorite Arrowhead Identification Reference Book

If you only buy one reference book, this is the one you need. This is the best arrowhead identification book on the market. This should be in the library of everyone who hunts arrowheads.

Framing Tip for Arrowheads

The best way to display and protect your artifacts is in a wood lock down frame, using foam on the inside to softly press your artifacts against the glass.


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