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Time Travelers

Imagine waking up one morning and instead of finding yourself in your warm bed there is a campfire nearby and you are covered by animal pelts. We all know time travel doesn’t exist, but we can imagine in our minds what it would be like.

There isn’t a calendar hanging on a wall, but it is pretty obvious you are far back in time. Since we are making this up, we can pick any period, so let’s choose 3000 BC. We are somewhere in the Mississippi River Valley.  People are not farming yet.  We immediately know that life is going to be a struggle. In our modern world we forage by going to the store or cracking open a refrigerator. Those days are over. As we observe our fellow human beings nearby, we discover they are spending most of their day locating food. Nuts, berries, edible roots and small animals are the feast of the day. Strung between two trees is a long rope with dried tough meat hanging on it, the reward of the last hunt. Someone motions for you to join them on a new hunt, and you catch up with three other hunters, armed with the atlatls. First they rub you down with grease so your body odor doesn’t alert the other animals. You are not wearing much, and your feet hurt as you walk through the woods. The days of cushioned shoes are over. Hopefully this hunt will not hobble you for life! You finally locate some deer in the distance, and now the challenge begins.  If you scare them in the slightest, this long hike will have been a waste. They motion you to be the one to sling the spear. If you miss, the deer will scatter and the hunt will be over. Of course, your glasses are back in 2020, so your eyesight is poor at best. But with a stroke of luck, you actually strike the beast and it succumbs. Now the real work begins. Everyone pulls out their knives and the deer is gutted.  Your fellow hunters eat some of the organs raw on the spot, and you are invited to join in. Blood is everywhere. Once the deer is dressed, you and one other tie it to a branch and get to haul it back to the camp. The first thing you notice as you get close to the camp is the smoke. The air is full of it in an attempt to keep the biting insects away. You next notice the smell. Everyone prefers coving themselves in animal fat to ward off insects, and bathing is a rare thing. The smell is bad body odor times one thousand. But after a while you get used to it, and realize you are beginning to smell the same. Your feet are really sore, and you suffered some cuts during the hunt. A woman rubs some plant leaves on you and someone else blows some smoke into your face in order to make you well. The women have gathered some wood for the fire and a few choice pieces of meat are cooked. The rest is hung under a slow burning fire to dry into touch jerky. The day is almost over, and the fire is made larger, so the creatures of the night don’t sneak into camp and make a meal out of someone. You are living in a small rockshelter, and the inside is damp and moist. There are a few older individuals at the back of the cave who are wheezing and coughing. They are most likely in their late 20s, but they look like they are 50. Out of the darkness one individual comes out wearing the head of a wolf on his head and the children giggle, as it is story time.  He uses the shadows of the fire, rattles and a large pipe to tell tales of bravery. He points to the myriad of stars above and you hear of the ancestors and the beloved Hero Twins. The sounds of the forest grow louder and soon turn into such a roar that you can no longer hear the stories being told.  A storm is approaching in the distance and everyone moves father into the shelter. It rains for several days, and you sit, waiting for the storms to abate. Everyone is involved in activities, from tattooing each other, to weaving, making baskets and flint knapping tools. Someone motions to you and you are recruited to come along to find some flint. You walk for miles and finally come upon some nodules lying in a creek. You put as many as you can in the pack on your back, and haul them back to the camp. Then you knap until your fingers are bleeding.

This fantasy story could go on for a long time, but I think you get the idea. We live in the perfect time. Life is essentially easy. We complain because our phone doesn’t work, the takeout order is wrong or gas is too expensive. We whine about our air conditioner being on the fritz or that you are out of shampoo. Our problems are nothing compared to what these ancient peoples encountered daily. They could easily live in our world, but we could not live easily in theirs.

Most of the artifacts we collect are their most prized treasures, from finely crafted birdstones, to bannerstones. Their very existence was threatened every day, something we cannot even fathom. They had to live with bad eyesight and all of the other conditions we have conquered. Take away modern civilization and we are right back in the forest trying to make sense out of the stars and we just hope to live another day.

So go remove some of your valuable artifacts from their frames hold your treasured artifacts, and  remember that each one has a story to tell. These aren’t art objects, but the work of real people long ago, just trying to make the world work for them. Perhaps that perfect arrowhead was a gift to a lover. Or maybe it was buried to honor a father who was just killed by wolves. Or maybe it was placed out in the forest to ward off the evil spirits that have made everyone sick.  Each and every artifact has a lifetime of tales to tell. If only we had the time machine that could reveal the “real” story, most likely we would be amazed. Our relics are way more than “pretty” rocks. They hold the life stories of ancient peoples that once lived and walked the same earth as us. Perhaps they killed game where the Walmart stands today. Or they buried their loved ones beneath the earth where you just parked your car. This land was their land at one time.

So move forward to AD 7020. I wonder what  people in that time will collect? What will our artifacts tell them? Will they look at bolt and make profound observations about us? Will they hold a nail and ponder what our lives were like? Will they have a rare hairbrush in a cabinet? Will they treasure a coin that has the image of an unknown man on its face, wondering what he did and why we revered him so much?

Collecting the past is much deeper than just a frame of arrowheads. Next time you open that frame up, think about the real tales these beautiful points might tell. You will have a whole new respect for your collection.

Copyright 2020 by Steven R. Cooper


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Steven R. Cooper
Editor-in Chief
Central States Archaeological Journal