Leck Kill man has passion for ancient artifacts
Like all bowhunters, Ken Snyder eagerly anticipates the arrival of fall and Pennsylvania's archery deer season.
Unlike most bowhunters, however, Snyder has a year-round interest in archery that goes beyond hunting and participating in 3-D shoots. Literally, he truly digs the hobby.
Snyder, Leck Kill, is among the ranks of a relatively small, albeit devoted, group of hobbyists involved in collecting arrowheads. These amateur archeologists, for the most part, are not involved in the activity for profit, but rather for the personal satisfaction of uncovering the remnants of long-forgotten inhabitants of North America.
"In reality, what we commonly refer to as arrowheads are in reality probably spearheads," Snyder said. "Most of the artifacts that still can be found in our area probably predate before the Vikings got here, which is believed to be in the 1300s.
Snyder said the artifacts certainly predate both the French and Indian War and our American Revolution because by the mid-1700s, the Eastern Indians were trading with the European settlers and would have been making arrowheads out of metal. Then the use of firearms became more common among the Indians, so many of the stone arrowheads that are found can go back thousands of years.
"There were tribes living here in our area during the Paleon Era, which was 10,000 years ago, but I doubt if you could now find anything from then; next is the Archaic Era, which was 4,000 years ago, and it would be rare to find anything for then; most recent is the Woodland Era, which goes back 2,000 years, and artifacts can be found from then."
In addition to trading with settlers for metals such as copper and brass to use in the making of tools and weapons, native people traded among themselves over great distances. For example, there are items made of coral that are occasionally found in this area which would have had to make there way from Florida.
Common materials in this area that were used to make arrowheads and tools are rhyolite, black chert, quartzite and jasper. Of these, quartzite was the hardest and most preferred, although jasper could be heated to make it easier to work with.
"Our area of Pennsylvania is one of the best to hunt for arrowheads because there were tribes living here at least 2,000 years ago," Snyder said. "A good time to look for arrowheads is after a rain, and two of the best places are plowed fields and along streams."
Snyder said he began collecting arrowheads when he was a teenager and was lucky to have a lot of old-timers willing to teach him a lot. There were times when he would look for hours in a field and never find anything, but soon learned you could find more searching along water, he said.
"To this day I go out every spring and look for arrowheads along the Mahantongo Creek and probably found more there over the years than anywhere else. This year, I found about 20, but back in the old days I could find 15 in one day."
Snyder said that just as one would do when wanting to hunt on private land, get the permission of landowners before looking for arrowheads. Also, because arrowheads work their way up through the ground, there is no need to dig for them.
Amateur collectors consider digging to be unethical, and in some cases may be illegal depending where it is done. Digging can also encourage professional dealers of artifacts to loot an area that is known to be productive.
Before looking for arrowheads on public lands, including State Game Lands, one should always research what may legally be taken. Many times neither plants nor minerals may be legally removed from private land, although taking an arrowhead found on the ground may be legal.
Arrowheads and other artifacts are usually found at sites that were permanent villages or campsites. It is rare that a single arrowhead that was used in hunting is found, and Snyder has concentrated his searching to Dauphin, Northumberland and Schuylkill counties.
"I'd say that 1 out of 10 arrowheads you find are worth collecting," Snyder said. "Arrowheads are classified from G1, which is the lowest grade, to G-10, which is the best."
Snyder said an estate auction or eBay are the best places for someone to look who's interested in buying an arrowhead collection. He said an average size framed collection would be at least $100.
"No one I know is collecting arrowheads for financial gain. They collect because finding them helps preserve local history."