I was asked by my friend and neighbor Michael Dolan who is editior for American History magazine to review an advocational archeology book. It follows:
In this third edition of his DIY handbook, C.G. Yeager draws on decades of experience as an avocational archeologist hunting artifacts in Colorado and Wyoming. The book’s geographical emphasis on the high plains sometimes imparts a provincial feel. However, from the ethics of amateur archeology to methodologies for displaying finds, for the novice collector this guide explores practical themes relevant throughout North America.
For the self-empowering prehistorian, Yeager’s chapter on stone tool types, illustrated with sketches, is perhaps the book’s single most useful passage. Though Yeager skews his discussion to his personal stomping grounds, he does cover artifact types encountered throughout North America. Employing the colloquial “arrowhead” but acknowledging that the term encompasses a range of projectile points and blades, he reminds the reader that “arrowheads” could see use as knives, as opposed to being fitted to a shaft and launched with a bow or throwing stick.
I do take issue with some of this section’s descriptors. In defining “stunner” points—projectiles with blunt or crescent-shaped business ends, meant not to pierce but to clobber—he might have cited examples from the Great Basin, where such tools have been linked with waterfowl hunting. The sight of geese strolling golf courses with arrows sticking out of them suggests early humans might have realized sharp points might not work that well for killing birds.
Another example of incomplete analysis on Yeager’s part: discoids, stones shaped to be circular, which he generalizes as “ceremonial”—an archaeological catchall. The artifacts, also known as chunkey stones, enjoyed distribution across the continent; George Catlin painted Plains Indians using discoids in games.
My final beef is with the author’s characterization of stone balls. Yeager lists some accepted theories on their functionality—”in games and cooking”—but ignores their worldwide use as sling stones. In subsequent editions, I hope the author addresses the implications of new technology in the curation of artifacts. The smartphone—capable of mapping, imaging, and logging information— is as important and disruptive hunting and gathering tool for today’s archaeologist, professional or amateur, as the debut of the bow and arrow was for early humans 1,300 years ago. Save for an overly regional bent, Arrowheads and Stone Artifacts stands out informatively in the sparse genre of archaeoavocational literature.