BEDFORD — Chase Neeley walks the untilled farm field, pushing away the loose sand and dried up corn cobs that litter the surface with an old weeding tool he picked up for a dollar at a yard sale.
Whereas an untrained eye might see nothing but broken corn stalks and random rocks, Neeley is focused on any glint or shimmer of a possible artifact hiding just beneath the sand.
It’s a treasure hunt that requires immense patience.
“If I find one arrowhead each time I go out, then it’s a good day,” he said.
Neeley, 31, has been hunting arrowheads for about a year.
He came to the hobby by accident after receiving a gift of two artifacts from his uncle.
“My uncle had two arrowheads that my grandpa found as a boy, and he gave them to me,” he said. “I didn’t honor them at first, but I showed them to a friend, and he said they were really nice and worth something.”
He did a little research and became interested in how to find more arrowheads.
What he learned was that he had a lot to learn about arrowheads — how and where to find them. It also sparked a curiosity about the people from the past who lived in southern Indiana.
He marvels at the resourcefulness of those early dwellers to fashion their own tools.
He has seen enough arrowheads to realize some were better at making them than others.
“You can tell a lot by looking at the shaping marks … it’s like the person who can build a house versus the person who can just build a shed,” he said.
Neeley’s current hunting grounds are in Williams, on farm land that is privately owned, but that he has permission to hunt.
“Always ask permission,” he said.
September was Indiana Archaeology Month, which was observed with programs and activities by the Department of Natural Resources division of Historic Preservation & Archaeology.
Archaeologists have recorded more than 71,000 sites in Indiana since the early 1800s, helping to shape public understanding of the prehistoric and historic people who also called this land home.
“Archaeology tells us not only about the past but also sheds light about ourselves today and our future,” said Cameron Clark, DNR director and state historic preservation officer, in a news release. “Archaeology month provides a perfect way for Hoosiers to find out how, with programs that are not only educational and informative but also fun.”
One of the state’s finest examples is the the Angel Mounds site in Evansville. The area was a thriving Native American community a thousand years ago.
Neeley, who works as a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service Bedford office, hunts for artifacts in his spare time. Sometimes, all he finds are shards of tools or broken pieces of arrowheads. A few times, he has found complete arrowheads, also called projectile points, but that is rare.
“These things have just been sitting here, and when you find it and pick it up, you are holding something that was last touched by a person 500 or maybe even 5,000 years ago … it’s something to marvel at,” he said.
From what he has read, Neeley said what people consider an arrowhead was rarely on a flying arrow.
“Most were used as knives or sharp tools,” he said.
Some have blunt or rounded tips that could have been used for scraping hide from an animal.
He learns as he goes, talking to others who hunt artifacts.
For instance, areas near waterways are usually good places to hunt, or after a heavy rain. In Indiana, hunting for artifacts is allowed as long as you are scraping the surface, but digging is illegal.
TIPS FOR HUNTING ARTIFACTS
Those who hunt artifacts legally abide by a handful of rules or courtesies, said Chase Neeley.
• Find your own spot and always get permission from the property owner.
• Ideal times to hunt are after a “gulley washer” because the rain will expose artifacts and wet objects will shine, making them easier to see.
• Choose an area that no one else has hunted. “The worst thing you’ll ever find is footprints. You don’t want to see that someone else has been hunting your spot.”