The Purchase of Small Secrets

Hi everyone,

CCI12202015_00000My new Missouri Archaeological Society Quarterly just arrived. I started taking the journal and supporting the society when I was working on MAMMOTH BONES AND BROKEN STONES, a book about the search for the first migrants to the North American continent. This was partly because of my lifelong interest in archaeology and partly in gratitude to Neal Lopinot, Director of the Center for Archaeological Research at Missouri State University, for his tremendous help when I was preparing the book. MAMMOTH BONES AND BROKEN STONES

One of the articles in this issue is about the history of Native American occupation of Shannon County, Missouri’s second largest county. It’s an area of worn ridges and shallow valleys, a place where water comes from numerous large springs and rivers, and which has long been an inviting habitat for humans and animals. The first known humans to live in the area were Clovis people some 11,000 years ago. They were followed, 1,000 years or so later, by Dalton Indians. How do we know this? A good deal of the evidence comes from the stone points they left behind.

Every culture of Native Americans had distinctive styles for the points they used for knives, spear heads, hide scrapers, and so on. When archaeologists unearth points identified with a specific group, it helps fill in the map of when and where those early people moved about the country. Piece together enough of these human maps through the efforts of scientists across our continent and we slowly come to understand more about life toward the end of the most recent glaciation, which ended roughly 12,000 years ago.

What fascinates me about these glimpses into the past is that although it’s hard in a modern society to imagine life ten millennia ago, we need to remember that those people were in most ways little different from us today. Humans (Homo sapiens) developed in Africa probably some 200,000 years ago. By the time Native American were populating this continent, our species had existed for 190,000 years more or less.

When I was a boy collecting what we used to call arrowheads, I gave little thought to the hands that had fashioned that work of art that had such practical value to life in those times. Now, when I hold a stone point, I sometimes try to imagine what it might have been like on the day it was created. I wrote a poem about it in THE PURCHASE OF SMALL SECRETS.
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A CHIP OF FLINT
By David L. Harrison
From The Purchase of Small Secrets

See this?
Too thin
for an arrowhead.

Maybe a chip
from the weapon
being made
by a master craftsman,
flint in one hand
antler tip in the other,
strong wrists
fashioning
a new stone point.

Did he pause
in these woods
silent alone
or was he surrounded
by chuckling comrades
who winked at secrets
as flint chips fell?

It doesn’t matter
the chip was rejected
by the arrowhead.

I accept it
as a gift
from an unknown hand.

(c) Boyds Mills Press
By permission of the author

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4 comments on “The Purchase of Small Secrets

  1. Great example of how wondering can take artistic forms. 🙂 My state had a Shannon County, until a vote of the people renamed it Oglala Lakota County this May. It is entirely Indian reservation, and apparently the Shannon after which the country was originally named was not friendly to native people, hence the change. That’s a lot of backstory for a comment, but it fits in well with your theme.

    • Thank you, Jane. And I like the back story too. It makes you wonder what triggered the action to change a county name that has presumably been on the map for a very long time. I bet that took a lot of debate.

    • I truly appreciate this. The stone point is a connection between two people existing thousands of years apart. Such revelations matter to me.

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