We first realized Sierra had a gift back in 1998 when we were cycling the Great Divide Mountain Bike Trail in New Mexico. We had packed up our bike camp and were holding up our loaded tandems and trailers to take off for the day, but Sierra was stalling.
“The boat’s leaving,” I yelled and she yelled back,
“Just one more minute. I want to find an arrowhead.” We rolled our eyes.
Shortly afterwards she remarked, “Got it!” and ran down to meet us. In her hand was a 2,000 year old obsidian ancient Pueblo bird point.
I looked at her astonished. “How did you know?” I asked.
“I just knew,” her little innocent voice said.
She also found ancient pottery chards scattered in the sand that summer, their curved sides painted in geometric designs. At home, she constantly found crystals on the trail as she walked. She seemed to have an uncanny sixth sense for finding things, a different vision.
So at eight, she started to think she wanted to be a geologist or an archeologist. We bought her a geologist hammer for her birthday, and a copy of Minerals, Metals and Gemstones of Pennsylvania.
When I read about a woman who conducted archaeological digs along the Susquehanna River, Jan Klinedinst, President of Down to Earth Archeology, I arranged for her to take us out. She offers hands-on lectures and archaeological workshops on Pennsylvanian’s Indians. Her four-hour, hands-on field workshop enables you to discover Indian artifacts while learning about Pennsylvania’s prehistoric cultures. On the banks of the Susquehanna River we did a ‘walk over’ through an actual archaeological Prehistoric Indian camp, rich with hidden evidence that’s never been discovered.
“You need to train your eyes to see what belongs on this field and what doesn’t,” Jan continued. “If it looks like it came from the Susquehanna River, like round river rocks, an Indian brought it up.”
Sierra was riveted and focused. She studied the ground like a detective. She held artifacts in her mind’s eye and they popped out to her in the dirt. She found trade beads, flint shards, and a bollo rock. The bollo rock, we learned, could have been placed in a sack with others like it and thrown at an animal such as a rabbit. If they wanted the pelt whole for some purpose and not broken by a point, they killed with bollo rocks. Or, it could be a cooking rock. They were heated in a fire and placed in a pot of water to cook meat.” Jan told us to take it home and boil it and let the water cool completely. Since the rock was never again brought up to temperature, it will release venison fat if it was a cooking rock, which will form a film on the surface and harden.
Jan told us a story of finding an oblong, egg-shaped rock that looked remarkably similar to the clay pottery bowls discovered in this area and displayed in the Pennsylvania State Museum. She knew the early people did things the easiest way possible so she thought maybe they took a rock like this and used it as a form to make their pots. She shoved the rock into the earth, took a ball of clay and formed it around the rock. But it stuck and wouldn’t come off. So she thought of taking waterproof soapstone, which the Susquehanna Indians brought up from the PA/MD line to make the first pots. She crushed it to form a powder and rubbed it on the rock. Then the pot she formed slid right off when she carefully turned it upside down! When she took it to the state museum and compared it to the ancient pots found in this area, they were exact! The egg-shaped rock that she found was the same one used by the Indians to make their pots all those years ago! I looked over at my daughter and she was entranced with this information, as she rolled the rock around in her hands.
Jan always wondered where their clay source was. The river itself was too far away, (before it was dammed and widened.) It had to be from one of three streams in the area. The other year, during a severe drought, the creeks were lower than she’s seen them all her life and because of it, a clay bed was revealed. Could this be the source she’s been looking for 30 years? Clay color varies radically from one spot to another, depending on its mineral content. It also looks a lot different after it’s fired. Jan made a pot and fired it in a pit dug in the ground, just as the Indians would have. When fired and compared to the museum pots, the color was exact!
We could imagine natives living here thousands of years ago and conducting their lives in this very spot, using these same things. What else is remarkable is that some of the land and their artifacts are still here after all the development, change and pollution we have inflicted on the land.
After a day like this, I was ready to switch my profession from being a writer to an archaeologist Being in the company of someone as knowledgeable and enthusiastic as Jan, plus being so successful at finding artifacts, made it easy to want to do more archaeological work. I could visibly see my daughter’s passion being fueled.
“Can we find fields at home where we could hunt for arrowheads?” Sierra asked. “Maybe we can go out after the land was plowed and it rained?” My mind began to visualize elevated cleared land near creeks back home which might be a good location for finding artifacts. We were both excited to continue with this new-found interest.
This Saturday afternoon workshop could be attended by anyone, regardless if their child was a homeschooled or not, and their mother was a writer or not, and at a nominal fee. Schools have their hands full striving to cover their mandated material so a field trip like this would be up to us parents. As a travel writer, who often focuses on Pennsylvania topics, I was always in search of field trips, events that I could write about, while at the same time, exposing my children and expanding their knowledge through experiential learning. I learned how to search for these opportunities, network, use resources, make connections, etc. and double dipped, combining work and teaching/parenting. But I was not doing anything any other parent could not do.
Sierra did not end up being an archaeologist but got her degree in anthropology with a minor in geography of urban studies. Digging for gems and artifacts was just a rung on the ladder in discovering who she is and what her life passions are. I was on a quest too, to do my homework, recognize when my children have a gift or a passion or even a mere interest, and do everything in my power to find ways to feed their hunger.