May 27, 2021

How To Find Arrowheads - A Complete Guide

Scott Kimball

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Scott Kimball

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Many people who want to find and collect arrowheads have no idea where to start. What are the best places to look? What tricks do people use?

You can find arrowheads all over North America, but you will have much more luck if you use the right strategies. Look for evidence that there was once a campsite where you are. Look for arrowheads at the right time of year and in the right places.

As well as knowing where to look and what to keep an eye out for, you should do research. Know about the local tribes and local history, and you may find out about former settlements or repeatedly used campsites. Look in farmer's fields, look in streams, look where two streams or rivers join, and you will find arrowheads.

I have been collecting arrowheads since I was a kid, and I never look around in the woods at random. I always start with an educated guess about where I can find arrowheads. The best spot to look is where you know many people lived for a long time, the next best spot is where a stream joins a river.

How To Find Arrowheads - A Complete Guide | Today I'm Outside

Table of Contents:

Do research and ask questions

The first and most important thing to do is learn about your local area. Who were the local tribes, and what were their lifestyles?

Were they settled or nomadic? What crops did they grow, and what animals did they hunt? Where did they set up their camps?

The more you know about them, the more easily you can find their campsites. Many people might know about where camps or villages were.

Ask questions and learn what you can about local history.

Nothing beats getting the location of a site from others. Talking to people in person or on social media often works better than using a search engine to find this information.

There are quite likely excellent local spots to find arrowheads, with many still in the ground. Talk to enough people that you find out about these spots. You probably can't google the best locations - this information isn't usually published anywhere.

Old books might contain useful information and be available online for free. You can find out where the local villages were in old books.

You might also go to a local museum. Look at what arrowheads found in your local area look like. It is much easier to notice an arrowhead if you know what shapes to look for and what color of stone to expect.

Asking for help on social media can work. If you know very roughly where a village was, someone on social media might know the exact location.

Some locations are hopeless

In some locations, you won't find any artifacts at all. Perhaps there were never any arrowheads there, or they are so few and so well hidden that you could look in that area for years and find nothing.

If you repeatedly search a spot and find nothing, try somewhere else. Don't keep on searching the same spot over and over again if there are no arrowheads and no flint chips that indicate you might find arrowheads. Search for arrowheads systematically - it will take too long to find anything if you search randomly.

Don't look for arrowheads too far from water

While I have found many arrowheads hundreds of feet away from the nearest water source, I do not find many arrowheads a mile or more away. People would not want to walk a long way to the nearest river or lake, so they did not live far from water sources, even for a short time.

Often you can find arrowheads in farmer's fields and on the ground in forests and not only near the edges of rivers. However, a field usually has to be reasonably near to a river to have any artifacts.

Look for toolmaking sites

One of the best ways to find arrowheads is to spot debris from toolmaking on the ground. Flint flakes give old toolmaking sites away. You can find arrowheads, ax heads, spear points, and many other artifacts.

People often discarded arrowheads at toolmaking sites. If an arrowhead was good, it was often used on an animal far from a toolmaking site. However, people left flawed arrowheads behind.

Flawed arrowheads often look perfectly fine but do not have the right weight to fly well. Hunters insisted on high-quality arrowheads and discarded others. Campsites, settlements, and toolmaking sites are full of discarded tools.

Learn to identify and notice flint flakes

If you have never looked for arrowheads before, you might not notice flakes when you see them, or you might mistake natural rock chips for evidence of a toolmaking site.

Artificial flint flakes from toolmaking have a round bulge on them. This is known as the bulb of force. Stone toolmaking techniques create flakes with a specific shape that is different from natural rock flakes.

With larger flakes, the bulb is obvious; with smaller flakes, you might not immediately notice it. It helps to know what materials were used to make tools in your area.

Usually, tools were made out of flint (usually dark-colored) or obsidian (black). However, other materials were used, and in some places, lighter colored stones were commonly used. You should know what materials were used so you can know what color of flakes to look out for.

Look for other evidence of former campsites

Flint flakes are not the only thing to watch out for. You can also find burnt rocks that indicate fire pits. If you are lucky, there might be pottery shards lying around.

Don't dig holes without evidence

I don't dig for arrowheads unless there is some evidence that there are arrowheads to find nearby. If you dig holes randomly in the woods, you probably won't find anything.

You would have to dig very many holes before you found a single arrowhead that way. Sometimes, you can do better looking for arrowheads on the surface than by digging. Only dig after you find flakes or arrowheads.

Search in the spring

It is easier to find arrowheads in the spring than in any other season. In the colder months, the ground may be too hard.

The ground can be hard in the summer as well. Fall is probably better than summer, and spring is even better than fall.

In the spring, water runs everywhere. This can move the topsoil around and expose anything from rocks to arrowheads.

A lot of the time, you can find arrowheads on the surface in the spring. Moving water can also turn up flint chips, pottery shards, and other evidence that there are artifacts to dig up here.

You are less likely to find an arrowhead at the top of a hill than at the bottom of it. Heavy rain can move stones and artifacts around, so arrowheads move downhill over time.

There are still many arrowheads left on the surface - people have only found a very small fraction of the arrowheads out there. Arrowheads are not meaningfully harder to find than they were decades ago, not even on the surface. Some specific locations do run out of arrowheads for people to find.

Search creeks in the summer when the water level is low

The water level in creeks and rivers is much lower in the summer. Arrowheads and other artifacts can appear when the water recedes. You may find arrowheads along the dry riverbed or see arrowheads in the shallow water.

It is easier to find arrowheads if the stream has a gravel bottom. If the bottom is muck or sand, arrowheads may sink and become invisible. If the bottom is gravel, you can spot arrowheads on the surface.

Creeks in hilly areas may be better than creeks in flat areas. An arrowhead that was buried in a hill for thousands of years might wash out of the hill during a rainstorm eventually and make its way down the hill to a waterway.

Another reason why creeks and rivers are good spots is that people often hunted animals near waterways. Even today, hunters find animals near creeks. Arrows that missed their targets were not always recovered.

Look where two streams or rivers join

An arrowhead or other artifact might slowly move from one location to another over hundreds or thousands of years. It might remain in the same spot until powerful weather dislodges it.

Artifacts can therefore move downhill over time, into rivers, and downstream. A common place for an arrowhead to end up is at the meeting of two rivers.

Sometimes, camps were also built at these locations, improving your odds further. People sometimes built long-lasting settlements where two rivers meet. You can also find pottery and other artifacts at these locations.  

Another place to search is near a spring. Springs are often very old, but their location changes somewhat over time as they move the earth around. People lived around springs for long enough that you can find arrowheads near them.

Creeks are not always ancient

A river is often in the same spot it was thousands of years ago. However, a creek might not be. Small streams change locations more often.

If a stream has only been there for a short time, you probably won't find any arrowheads.

You might also find out where streams used to be and search for arrowheads everywhere. This technique isn't for everyone, but you can use google maps topography tools to find out where streams formerly were.

Search on tilled fields

Looking for arrowheads in the fall after the harvest also works. When farmers till their fields, they can uncover arrowheads. The best time to look is in the fall after the crops are gone.

If you search in fields, you can search a much larger area than you could in the woods in the same amount of time. If there are any flint chips in the field, there used to be a camp here, and there must be arrowheads to find.

Most of the arrowheads you can find in fields are broken. Farm machinery often breaks arrowheads when it uncovers them. While it is easier to find arrowheads in fields than in the woods, you may end up throwing away many badly broken arrowheads.

A metal detector might not help you

Since metal arrowheads are much rarer than stone arrowheads, a metal detector might not help at all. You would have to be very lucky to find ancient copper tools using a metal detector.

A sand dipper is a better tool

To find rocks in rivers or lakes, you could use a sand dipper. This is a pole with a metal basket on it, which you can use to sift through sand without bending over and getting wet. Sand will pass through the net, but the net will catch arrowheads and flint chips that indicate there may be arrowheads nearby.

You can often extend a sand dipper until it is five or more feet long or retract it until it doesn't take up much room. A sand dipper also doubles as a walking stick. It takes much longer to look through the same amount of sand without a sand dipper.

Don't mistake pointy rocks for arrowheads

An arrowhead should have an edge as well as a point. If you find a rock that does not have an edge but only has a shart point and a vaguely triangular shape, it is not an arrowhead.

Very poorly made arrowheads are uncommon. If you find a pointy rock that doesn't even have an edge, it is only a sharp rock and not a poorly made arrowhead.

An arrowhead always has a base as well. If your arrowhead does not have a base that could have been attached to the shaft, it is probably only a stone.

You should also be careful not to throw arrowheads away, thinking they are sharp rocks. Not every arrowhead has a broad, flat, triangular shape. Arrows for hunting birds and other small animals had narrow points that you should recognize as arrowheads.

You may also find broken arrowheads. An arrowhead that obviously has an edge and a point but does not have a base may be an artifact. You may be able to look at it and tell whether or not the base was broken off at some point.

Stay within the law

Usually, finding arrowheads in the woods is legal. The two main things to watch out for are 1) Laws against taking arrowheads from national parks and 2) Laws against trespassing.

Taking arrowheads from national parks is not legal. Even if you find the artifact on the surface rather than dig it up, it is not legal to take arrowheads from national parks.

Taking arrowheads from any kind of public land is usually illegal. You cannot take arrowheads from state parks or national forests.

You can get a fine merely for picking up an arrowhead on public land. Any of the arrowheads there are the property of the government and must be left alone.

Public reservoirs and lakes are usually off-limits as well. Stick to private lakes that the public is allowed to use instead.

You cannot take arrowheads from Native American Reservations. Burial mounds can be illegal to dig up. Whether or not public rivers are legal depends on where you live.

There are lots of arrowheads to find on public land legally. You don't have to break any laws to search for arrowheads at excellent locations.

It is legal to look for, dig for, keep, and sell arrowheads despite the laws. You do not have to be an archeologist to dig up an old campsite on private land. You can collect artifacts without going into any legal grey areas.

Searching on private land is legal

The best way to hunt for arrowheads is to search on private property with the owner's permission. Since arrowheads are the property of whoever owns the land, you can be charged with theft as well as trespassing if you search without permission.

If you want to dig for arrowheads, you should ask the owner for permission to do this also. Be respectful, and you won't get in any trouble.

You should not do a lot of damage to the ground on another person's property. Use common sense when digging. Would the owner be ok with what you did to the ground?

Digging deep won't help you in many places. Even very ancient arrowheads are usually not far below the surface.

Learn about different types of arrowheads and other artifacts

There are a huge number of different types of arrowheads, too many for a collector to remember. Different arrowheads were used in different places and in different time periods.

A type of arrowhead may have only been used for a period of time thousands of years ago in a specific part of the country. There are hundreds of types and variations, and you can't know all of them.

However, you can know about the different types of arrowheads you can find in your area. You will be less likely to mistake an arrowhead for a sharp rock if you know what shapes to expect. If you find an unusually valuable point, you want to recognize it.

The most comprehensive guide to Indian arrowheads you can get is the Overstreet Identification Guide. This guide will help you identify a large majority of the arrowheads you can find.

You can also look for the same information online. Overstreet offers an online database with tens of thousands of images. Learn enough to know about the common types of arrowheads you can find in your area.

How To Find Arrowheads - A Complete Guide

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How To Find Arrowheads - A Complete Guide

About THE AUTHOR

Scott Kimball

From a young age I was introduced to fishing, hiking, camping, snowboarding and more through family, friends, and scouting. After 20 years of learning and participating in these outdoor activities, I share what i've learned (and continue learning) with you.

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