The skilled arrowhead makers of yore produced hundreds of missiles in a few days. Stone points were tied to arrows and lances and launched in pursuit of game and in battle. Although these American Indian relics are abundant, arrowheads can be hard to find in Alabama's thick and fast-growing vegetation and patchwork of different landowners. Knowing the rules and where to look will keep your Alabama arrowhead collecting legal and more productive.
For thousands of years, Native Peoples hunted with stone-tipped arrows and spears. These stone points remain the most enduring evidence of civilizations that left no written records. Alabama was home to many tribes, including Creek, Choctaw and Cherokee peoples. Maps of tribal territories indicate that they concentrated their activities along watercourses and tributaries of rivers such as the Tombigbee.
Arrowheads may appear anywhere Alabama Native Americans hunted. Identifying ancient campsites and settlements is most productive. Look for mounds of discolored earth indicating a midden, or ancient trash pile. Arrowheads often are present among the layers of ash, broken pottery and charcoal. Think about where you would have set up camp and look for middens.
Get started by checking historical maps of Alabama that identify tribal settlements. Although the landscape has changed because of dams and development, satellite images can help you zero in on likely topography around waterways.
Flowing water quickly grinds down or buries arrowheads, but searching stream banks after flooding has sliced into new soil is effective. Farming and construction equipment tend to destroy arrowheads, but the edges of fields or new developments can yield points after a rain.
Although Alabama receives 70 to 100 inches of rain per year, the best time to spot newly exposed arrowheads is following strong summer rains. A good rain clears off surface soils, exposing buried points. Look in seasonal streambeds and ravines where flat stones are deposited after rains. If physical comfort is a factor for you, search for arrowheads in Alabama in winter: Visibility improves, thick underbrush is yielding and insects are few.
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 prohibits taking artifacts from federal and Indian lands. Collecting on public land is off limits, and the penalties can be quite severe. The Alabama Antiquities Law prohibits collecting on state property, including along public roads. You may not pick up arrowheads in any of the national forests or state parks. Lakes and rivers operated under the Army Corps of Engineers or Tennessee Valley Authority are also off limits for arrowhead collecting.
It can be dangerous to trespass on private land in Alabama, so be sure you have permission in writing from the landowner before you remove any artifact.
Use satellite images to narrow your search to undeveloped land, farmland and forests that are not otherwise off-limits, and get permission to hunt for arrowheads by asking landowners you know. Identify other landowners through the county tax office, and send a letter asking permission. You can also join the local Paleontological Society or contact the archeology department of an Alabama university and volunteer.
- indian arrowhead image by Jim Mills from Fotolia.com