Boy discovers rare arrowhead in base housing
By Sarah McCaffrey, 96th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 19, 2004
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFPN) -- What started out as a souvenir for the Lilley family living on Arrowhead Court in base housing here has turned out to be a very significant discovery of American Indian culture.
Six-year-old John David Lilley and his 10-year-old sister, Nancy, were playing in a sandy area of the cul-de-sac when they discovered what appeared to be an arrowhead. John and Debbie Lilley were skeptical when John David showed them the arrowhead he found near their home.
“It didn’t seem like it was real,” Mrs. Lilley said.
She decided to contact cultural resources division officials here to learn more about the arrowhead and find out if it was authentic.
The arrowhead was real and very rare. The archaeological program here has found more than 1,900 archaeological sites in the past 20 years, but most of the finds have been common artifacts.
Archaeologists here have found much broken pottery and many shell piles called middens, which were used for waste disposal, but few artifacts as important as this arrowhead.
“This arrowhead turned out to be very significant in the archaeological site we’re investigating,” said Mark Stanley, archaeologist with the environmental program directorate. “What makes it so significant is not that it is rare, but that the way it is made helps us determine which period of prehistory it came from.”
The artifact is a Hardee beveled dart point measuring 2.5 inches long by 1.5 inches wide. The dart point would have been attached to a spearlike hunting tool called an atlatl. Archaeologists estimate the dart point dates back to 3,000 to 2,000 B.C. and was probably made by ancestors of the 18th or 19th century Seminoles or Creeks. The dart point is carved from coastal plains chert, a type of stone found about 100 miles from this area.
“Arrowheads and other stone tools are very rare in the panhandle because American Indians had to travel over 100 miles to get them,” Mr. Stanley said.
American Indians from the panhandle would trade feathers and shells with other groups to obtain arrowheads and dart points, which were essential for hunting.
Stone tools were very valuable to them because of their rarity and expense. Hunters would follow their prey for long distances to retrieve an arrowhead or dart point, Mr. Stanley said. If the arrowhead was damaged during the hunt, the tribesmen would recycle it by shaping it into a new tool.
The Lilley family’s donation of this artifact to the cultural resources division is helping archaeologists learn more about the former residents of the panhandle.
“The material it is made from can tell us something about their trade networks,” Mr. Stanley said. “The style that it is made in can tell us about their hunting practices.”
As technology develops in the future, archaeologists may be able to learn even more from this artifact, Mr. Stanley said.
“It was very generous and selfless of the Lilleys to come forward and present this artifact,” said Tara Cheek, environmental public affairs spokeswoman.
“Projectile points and pottery shards kept in private collections could hold the key to important archaeological questions, especially when their exact original location is known,” Mr. Stanley said.
“It is difficult to understand the difference between what is a keepsake and what could potentially be a piece of history,” Ms. Cheek said.
The dart point found by the Lilleys will be showcased in the interpretive center which is similar to a museum. It houses more than 600 cubic feet of artifacts in climate-controlled facilities for proper preservation.
If an artifact is found on federal property, the finder is obligated by the Archaeological Resource Protection Act to leave it in place and contact the proper authorities. When an artifact is found, mark the area with a flag or some other easily distinguishable marker.