Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies

ARCTIC ARTIFACTS

Kenneth Basset
 
Columbia, Missouri


  It was January 17, the day before Martin Luther King's birthday, a national holiday. I had been waiting for the water to drop on the Missouri River, as it sometimes does in winter. The river goes through cycles of wet and dry periods every seven or eight years.  Only recently had it gone down enough to expose my favorite islands for a few days.  If I am not working my boat through ice flows to get there, I am at work wishing I were there whenever these very short periods of exposure occur. In the most recent past these periods have been painfully rare.  The prize is an impossible temptation: to be the first person in thousands of years to find and hold a spectacular piece of history. If a person is spiritual, then one must contemplate these almost mystical pieces of stone.

   But to risk one's life to find an artifact is stupid, and every time I put my boat in 40-degree water, I know I am tempting fate. This particular time my girlfriend, Jeannie, wanted to go along. Even though I love her company, this automatically doubled my stupidity.

  After bumping through the moving ice flows, we finally made it across the river to the island, where I got out of the boat with Jeannie still inside and pulled it up onto the sand. I turned away from the boat with the rope still in my hand, looked down, and saw an arrowhead. I thought Jeannie might believe I was pulling a trick on her. She didn't. We admired this little, stubby Adena point which, while symmetrical, was probably a discarded piece. She got out of the boat and went

 

 

crunching ahead of me, a little sorry that she had to step on such beautiful sheets of ice formed in every fancy pattern imaginable. Huge round icebergs slowly worked their way to anchor themselves on the island's shore, pushed there by the momentum of a passing jam. Jeannie was walking between these, just as one might look for a golf ball between bushes, when I heard her react to something. This was not her normal expression of surprise: this was a "better get over here quick" response to something I knew must be good. Sure enough, lying there bigger than life, was a

beautiful spear point. This was quite a find for her, so we stood looking at it with admiration.

  We found other points this day as well. Looking back, I realized that it was a remarkably productive day for this little island on the Missouri River. Our trip back across the river wasn't nearly as scary, but Jeannie expressed her desire that this trip would be her last in winter. I wisely agreed.

  It is a hard decision to give up information about a good site. Nevertheless, I have told a number of people about this place. A deluge of hunters never arrived. My friends warned me about loose talk, but after many years of sharing my experiences with others, I have found no reason to hide my excitement about the place. Perhaps they have had different, more positive experiences than I, and I certainly respect that. I have gone to great lengths not to betray their trust or to release information given to me in confidence. I have my own secret places, but the few I have shared are now hunted by my own group of friends, and they feel obligated to show me their finds, and I enjoy this.

  If we do not in some fashion comprehensively record or pass along the facts to the next gatherer or maybe to your very best friend, then the information is lost when you leave this life. If you relate your experiences with others, you leave behind at least a trusted memory, and quite possibly someone will follow in your footsteps and find something you didn't have time to find.·

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