What were arrowheads made out of?
People made arrowheads out of stone, wood, bone, volcanic glass, and other natural materials. Flint was one of the most common materials.
Obsidian can be ground to a very sharp point, even sharper than metal, and was popular wherever the volcanic glass was available. Some other materials are:
- Petrified wood
- Oyster shells
Since metal arrowheads are much rarer than arrowheads made from natural materials, you might never find an arrowhead with a metal detector. You can do very well metal detecting in North America. You may find many metal artifacts, both European artifacts and Native American artifacts from later times.
However, if you are looking specifically for arrowheads or spear points, you will need a different strategy. The most valuable points are prehistoric ice age points, not metal ones.
Why were there so few metal arrowheads?
There were metal tools north of Mexico long before contact with outsiders. Even 10,000 or more years ago, people made copper tools.
However, while people worked metal thousands of years ago in North America, they did not smelt it. People made metal out of natural copper nuggets when they could find them.
Without smelting, metal was scarce, and it became more scarce over time. Stone tools, therefore, remained much more common than metal tools. When metal was used, people did not usually use it for arrowheads.
There are also metal arrowheads from after contact with Europeans, but these are also hard to find compared to stone arrowheads. They were not produced for nearly as long as stone arrowheads were, so there's not nearly as many in the ground.
If you are looking specifically for arrowheads, you probably shouldn't bother with a metal detector. Learn other techniques that help you find arrowheads.
How do metal detectors work?
Metal detectors work by producing and detecting electromagnetic fields. First, electricity moves through a coil, which sends an electromagnetic field into the ground. Metal objects that come into contact with this electromagnetic field produce their own fields.
The metal detector picks up these secondary electromagnetic fields and indicates that there is a metal object nearby. Non-metal objects will not produce electromagnetic fields and will not be detected.
While the technology is not similar to radar, it works on a vaguely similar principle. Radar sends out radio waves and detects radio waves bouncing back from objects. A metal detector sends out and detects electromagnetic energy.
Analog metal detectors are relatively simple, not very high-tech devices. Metal detectors work well without computer chips.
Many modern metal detectors use digital technology. A chip can process and interpret the signal that the metal detector picks up. Metal detectors with chips are known as processors.
Can a metal detector detect any kind of metal?
Metal detectors can detect many kinds of metal, but some more easily than others. Modern metal detectors can find some types of metal that older ones could not.
Ferrous metals (iron and steel) are the easiest to detect because they are so magnetic. They will easily produce their own electromagnetic fields.
Metal detectors can also find non-ferrous metals. People find copper, silver, gold, and other metals with detectors.
Lead, tin, aluminum, and other metals are also detectable. Even metals that are harder to detect, such as nickel, can still be found.
If there are copper tools in your area, a metal detector can find them. However, you can use a metal detector for a long time and never find any arrowheads. It is easier to find stone arrowheads using other means.
How can you find arrowheads?
Before you look for arrowheads, you might learn some local history. Who lived here a few hundred years ago, and where were their campsites?
If you know local people who find arrowheads, they might give you tips. You may be able to find maps that show the locations of old Indian settlements. You might use google maps to find a promising place to search.
You may be able to find arrowheads in shallow creeks and rivers. Lakes are another good spot. Many arrowheads that ended up in rivers made their way to the edges of lakes.
Spring is the best time to find arrowheads. Rain and flooding will move soil around and expose arrowheads that would not be visible otherwise.
You should know a little about arrowheads - someone who knows nothing will mistake sharp natural rocks for artifacts. If you find a valuable arrowhead, you want to be able to recognize it as such. While most arrowheads are worth little, some are worth a fortune.
More than anything else, you should keep your eyes out for debris on the ground. When people made arrowheads out of flint or obsidian, flakes ended up on the ground. These flakes are often still there hundreds of years later and give toolmaking sites away.
Even though a metal detector won't help you, some other tools might. You can use a simple sand dipper to look through streams and rivers quickly and easily.
Hunting for arrowheads is usually legal, as long as you are on private land (not national parks) and are not trespassing. Get the owner's permission first. As long as you have permission to dig up and keep arrowheads, it is usually legal for you to do this.