June 28, 2016

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Trailing arrowheads

John Gladden | Gazette

MEDINA TWP. — Jason Hanna has collected more than 2,500 prehistoric arrowheads and stone artifacts, but it’s still a thrill whenever he spots one in a freshly turned field.

It’s the realization that here at your feet is an object crafted by human hands, but yours may be the first hands to touch it in a thousand years.

“You always get that adrenaline rush when you find one,” said Hanna, 28.

mg-a1clr5colartifact-copy Jason Hanna, of Medina Township, poses with part of his 2,500-piece collection of artifacts. (John Gladden | Gazette)

The pieces in his collection range from 700 to 15,000 years old — predating the Native American cultures that lived in this part of Ohio when settlers arrived. Most of the artifacts are local and most were found by him. Others were purchased from collectors.

Hanna discovered his first arrowhead by chance when he was 10 or 12 years old. He was on a four-wheeler at his family’s 100-acre Spencer Township farm, looked down, and there it was. Hanna showed his dad, John, and both were hooked.

“It’s an addiction,” said Hanna, a software release specialist with NASA Glenn. “It just intrigued me. I like local history.”

When he lived at home, he hunted every day — finding as many as 100 arrowheads a year. These days, he goes out every week or two. His eyes and instincts are well trained enough that he usually finds something. It may not be intact, or high quality, but it’s something.

Hanna’s best pieces fill shelf after shelf and dozens of hanging cases. Every stone tells a story — of its origin and how he found it. One especially nice arrowhead — from the Hopewell-Adena culture and discovered on the family farm — was used as a model to produce the large arrowhead-shaped signs that mark the Portage Path Trail through Akron.

The artifacts date to the Paleo, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian periods. Prehistoric peoples didn’t have metal to work with, so stone was everything to them, Hanna said. His collection includes stone axes, roller pestles used to crush grain, hammer stones, paint pots, mauls, adzes and other tools used for working stone and wood. Some have edges still polished from use.

Essentially, any tool we have today made from metal they had made from stone, Hanna said. Prehistoric peoples were constantly making, using and losing arrowheads and tools. They also re-used them when possible — resharpening broken points.

He has some relics that were likely decorative or ceremonial, and a few that remain somewhat of a mystery, such as carved bird stones. Named for their shape, they may have been weights for an “atlatl,” a tool that used leverage to throw a dart or spear.

There are also Clovis points, which clock in at around 15,000 years old and represent the oldest culture in the United States. They are identified by their fishtail-shaped base and fluted edges.

Not only is Ohio rich in artifacts, it produced the best flint found in arrowheads from Canada to Florida. Quarries near Flint Ridge in central Ohio offered the finest color and quality. A collector like Hanna can read a piece of flint like a history book, identifying where it was quarried and when it was used, since certain designs were popular in certain eras.

Hanna put his encyclopedic knowledge into a book: “Indian Arrowheads Price Guide” (Krause, 2007).

Flint is like glass, Hanna said, capable of holding a razor-sharp edge — sometimes for centuries. It was often made into blades used for cutting and for scraping hides.

“I’ve found some in a field that would cut your hand if you ran it across,” he said.

The best hunting is on bare ground after a rain — the wet flint glints like glass. Having a bright, midday sun overhead helps, too. Arrowheads can be exposed by erosion, by the freezing and thawing action of the ground, and, of course, by a farmer’s plow.

It’s important to ask permission before hunting on private property, Hanna said. The best way to start collecting is by talking to local farmers. By building a relationship with area landowners, Hanna said he has permission to search on more than 2,000 acres across the region. Artifact hunting is prohibited in parks and on government property.

Those interested in collecting also must be wary of frauds — collectors who pass off newly made arrowheads for old. Hanna said it’s always best to buy from the finder, not a third party, so you can hear the story of where the piece was found. You also want to look for patina — aging and wear — though some are pretty good at faking that, too.

Hanna is getting set to refine his collection a bit. He’ll keep some of the high-value and sentimental pieces, but sell much of the rest in two auctions this fall. It’ll be large enough that it should attract collectors from around the Midwest, he said.

Many things figure into an object’s price — including age, rarity, condition, size and color, Hanna said. They can go for anything from a few bucks to a few thousand dollars.

In addition to honing his collection, an auction is a chance to perpetuate a hobby he loves by helping others get a start or add to their own collections. Its accessibility is what makes it fun. Prehistoric artifacts aren’t something you have to travel very far or be Indiana Jones to find, Hanna said.

They can be right in your own back yard.

On the Web: www.arrowheadworld.com.

Contact John Gladden at gladden@ohio.net.

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