This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Indiana pre-history

On Saturday I had a chance to visit the Prehistoric Indian Artifact Show sponsored by the Indiana Archeological Society held at the Demotte Christian School. (Thanks, David V.)
The event was held in the gymnasium and had rows of exhibits, mostly neatly presented. Some of the material on display was for sale and some of it was only there to be admired.
We live in a region that is rich in Indian artifacts. The Kankakee Marsh to our north and more wetlands to our south provided an abundance of game for hunters. The many sand hills that our region has were ideal for camps, and a good location could be occupied intermittently for thousands of years. Europeans have only been in our area for a few hundred years, but various groups of Indians inhabited and hunted it for about ten thousand years.  Given that very long period of human use in an area that was full of wild game, it should not be a surprise that there were many lost and abandoned stone tools.

People who were displaying tended to display pieces that were in excellent condition and were not the sort of thing a collector would find very often. A display like that below would either represent many years of collecting or, more likely, the purchase of key pieces from several collections.
It does not take a lot of money to collection a few arrowheads. On the table of one of the major dealers at the show, there were containers of arrowheads that cost between $3.00 and $30.00. I asked why some were so much more than others and was told that many factors such as quality, condition, rarity, collector interest, and type of material played a part. That is not too much different from collecting anything else--to be a serious collector requires a lot of study and learning about the field. (One also has to worry about forgeries.)
 The same dealer had some more expensive pieces.
 Actually, most of what are called arrowheads are spear heads. The Indians did not develop or adopt bows and arrows until 1000 or 1500 years ago. (I am not sure how well the dates have been determined by archeologists.) Before then the Indians used spears, which were effective because of the use of the atlatl. (See also here and here.) But because the atlatls were made of wood, they have rotted away.

Some of the points found in our area are knows as Indiana Green. They were made from chert that was found somewhere near Attica.

In addition to spear and arrow heads, there were many other tools on display. Below is a large selection of axes and other implements such as hoes. The notches show that they would be mounted on a handle.
 My guess on seeing pieces like the one below was they they were mortars, used in food preparation, but I was told that they actually were used for some kind of game. They must be quite rare because the one below had a price tag of $1600.
 There are a number of people in Rensselaer who collect or who have collected Indian artifacts. Several decades ago people would search farmer's fields, but now farmers do not want people searching their fields without permission. So unless you have access to a collecting site, it is hard to collect them. I also heard several people complaining that no-till practices rather than plowing have made it harder to find artifacts--the plow dug down and revealed what was beneath the surface, and after a few thousand years, a stone tool would no longer be on the surface.

Shows like this are one of the few places that force you to recognize that what we think of as the history of our region is just a tiny bit of the actual history.

By the way, did you know that arrowheads tessellate?


Dave Vohlken said...

Good job, Robert! With an abundance of Native American artifacts, our own "Indian School"
and the nearby Grand Kankakee Marsh, our area can hold its own in any discussion of Native American history.

Anonymous said...

I love the arrowhead tesselation. Also, I wish I had known about the show. Who organized it? Will there be another one in the fall?

David Vohlken said...

The Demotte artifact show, usually conducted the first week in May, was sponsored by the Indiana Archaeological Society. The next Indiana show is in Lebanon, IN on June 29, 2013. Contact Pat Mooney, Society Secretary, at for more information on show schedules and membership.

Anonymous said...

hey thanks for the post on my show and I was glad to talk to you and meet you. Also the demotte show is held every year on the first Saturday in May. I very much agree with you, people talk about the past history in our area and it usually doesn't go back more than a couple hundred years. Not that that's not important, but we cant forget about the thousands of years of history staring us in the face. thank again Dave Vander Wall