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Welcome to this new column. In case you do not know me, I have been the editor of the Central States Archaeological Journal for the past eleven years. In addition, I have edited the past two Overstreet Guides and I am working on the upcoming edition. Two years ago I published a new volume in the Who’s Who in Indian Relics series. This book took several years to compile and ended up being the largest (600 pages) pages in the series. In addition to my writing activities, I have been an avid collector of artifacts for nearly 30 years. About twenty years ago I moved my area of specialization into the Mississippian period, and today enjoy a well-rounded collection of fine shell, flint, ceramics, stone and other artifacts, including a small nice pipe collection and a book shelf of more than a thousand artifact related books.

I have always been a talker. There was a day when I was around 8 years old that my parents offered me $50 to be quiet for one hour. I could not do it. While being a chatterbox can sometimes be annoying, it allows one to converse with others widely throughout life. I’ve had in depth conversations with a myriad of collectors, dealers, auctioneers, crooks and others. I have taken many a road trip where we spent hours talking artifacts and collectors. People like to talk and if one is wise, you can use that talk to your advantage in collecting. Over time I plan to share some interesting stories as well as tidbits of information that will hopefully make your collecting experience more rewarding. This hobby is as much about the people who collect as the artifacts. We need answers to what drives us to collect, horde and cherish these hidden and lost works of prehistoric man?

Just recently I visited Ireland, Scotland and Great Britain. While their history is better documented than that of North America, theirs too runs into a period where the past is as mysterious as the universe. The National Archaeology Museum in Dublin (don’t we wish we had a National Museum of Archaeology in the United States!?) has on display treasures from the past that are truly astounding, and yet reflects the sameness of our shared human cultural past. On display were celts, adzs, and yes, spearpoints , all resembling in form those utilized in North America. Amongst these were objects made of gold, some exhibiting fine craftsmanship. However, the prehistoric shell and stone artisans of North America were equally as talented. The western mind for some reason gets excited by the luster of shiny metal. I think the Europeans utilized it because it was easier to find and there was a century’s long tradition of mining it. In Florida, immediately after the Spanish came, the Native peoples there produced for the first time finely crafted objects of gold and silver, since the Spanish had made them look for it. The Hopewell peoples produced beads and earspools of pure silver. These are rare, but in my travels I have held and viewed examples.

Also on display in the museum were “bog” mummies. These were human remains found perfectly preserved in the peat bogs of Ireland (many have also been found in Denmark). You could actually go and see these “people of the past” and admire their clothing and our modern connection to them. They are our ancestors, literally. Unfortunately, Native American beliefs find the display of any remains offensive, so we will never have this privilege in this country.

We wonder why there has been a Native American outcry in recent years against collecting and museum displays. As we all know, North America was not always the United States. Just five hundred years ago this was a land populated by a distinct human race that had traditions and ancestry going back 15,000 years. In just 500 years, settlers have taken their land and dismissed their culture as irrelevant, with the previous owners being referred to as savages. It was thought that the only way to deal with a savage was to kill them, turn them into farmers or herd them onto worthless spots of land out of the way of progress. And that is just what was done! In the 1970s the American Indian Movement put pride and political power into the hands of Native activists, and todays odd and strange collecting laws are the end result. It is more a matter of who has power, and some Native Americans see our collecting of their past as us controlling their ancestors. Hopefully our collective passion for preserving the prehistory of our nation will rise up and convince them that as collectors we are not here to control but save what little remains of a culture that flourished for thousands of generations.

Enough history and politics you are saying already! I would agree, but you must remember, what is the past without knowledge of it? It is just a black void of the unknown. Much of my own pleasure in collecting Mississippian is that there is somewhat of an historic record. The cities of this time period dot the ground of our landscape, and the written records of the first European visitors give us insight into these forgotten and vanished peoples. To read to DeSoto chronicles is to relive an adventure into a new and strange land that gives us a view of a long lost world from Florida to the Great Plains.

Collecting is mostly about rocks! While I love objects made out of other materials, the majority of artifacts are made from rock. And over 15,000 years Native peoples made billions of them. It is no wonder we find them virtually everywhere. There is no state or area of the country that has not seen the uncovering of arrowheads and stone tools. I have spoken to collectors who have dived into the rivers of Florida, finding artifacts on the river bottoms, as well as collectors who have found them high up in the Rocky Mountains. Just last year I published an article by a gentleman who found a quartz crystal arrowhead high up on his land overlooking Colorado Springs. This is a fairly inaccessible spot, so you have to wonder what, when and why prehistoric man visited here, and in addition, left a finely crafted point out in the middle of nowhere? That is a big question for many collectors; why were artifacts left here? Sometimes it just baffles the mind. One thing to take into account is our current landscape. It looks nothing like it did in prehistoric times. Little is ever said in school about our fascination with “wood.” But up until our modern age, nearly everything was built from wood. Trees were the most valuable resource on the planet. By the 15th century, most of Europe was deforested, the result of building cities of wood along with huge ships to explore the unknown world and bring back “new” things such as silk and spices. The BIG find in North America (after the metallic riches of Central America) was the massive “old-growth” forests. The United States was one massive forest of 400-1000 year old trees. This forest covered all the land from Maine to Florida to the Mississippi River, only ending at the grasses of the Great Plains. Today, only a few scattered remnants remain. But when our prehistoric hunters went out and threw spears or shot arrows in pursuit of game, their unsuccessful throws ended up lost on the forest floor, and were rapidly covered by the undergrowth. If only one spear or arrow was lost on one acre each year, that would leave 15,000 undisturbed waiting to be uncovered! Add that up on multiple acres and it is easy to see why there are so many in collections. Over time I will discuss many things here. I want you to think about what you collect. Collecting is way more than just putting points in a frame. To some it is a way of life! I intend to share stories and ideas so that your collecting experience will expand. For instance, it is one thing to collect Clovis points, but it is far more enjoyable to know who used them, why they were made, who first found them and what mysteries they still hold. That is the magic of collecting artifacts. There is more mystery to them than any other collectible. Most people collect “known” things such as paintings, chess sets or cars. Those all have a definitive history. There is no real mystery. But tell me about the maker of a Lost Lake point! Where did these people live? For how long? What was the world like when they roamed the earth? How did they live? What did they eat? And the list goes on and on. Yes, mysteries abound in each point. Hopefully we will unravel some of them over time.

Copyright 2018 Steven R. Cooper