By Morgan Hardy
For any kind of collector, there’s a prize piece – the Honus Wagner baseball card or the Inverted Jenny stamp, for example – that sets a collection above the rest. In American Indian arrowheads, Jim Lynch’s Christmas Star is just such a piece.
To understand why, you have to understand the deeper story behind the Star. It’s a 10- to 12,000-year-old ceremonial arrowhead from what’s called the Paleolithic period. Those qualities, though, bring out the biggest question about the Christmas Star and arrowheads like it. How does a ceremonial arrowhead, created with master craftsmanship, get here today? Consider that this piece of flint and its delicate details survived more than 100 centuries of farming on land trod by countless game and people, and the real mystery of the Christmas Star begins: Why is it here?
But it is, and pieces like it are still in the ground in Tennessee, waiting for the person in the right time and the right place to find them.
Lynch owns a sleepy Benton County convenience store about halfway between Paris and Camden, Tennessee, appropriately named “The Rock Man.” While he also deals in real estate, Lynch’s first and best love is his collection of American Indian relics, many of which are shown in a display that takes up about half of his store. While Lynch has purchased some of his arrowheads and will trade them, don’t expect to see any price tags: he’s not a dealer, he says, simply a collector.
Otherwise, the Christmas Star might well not be here today. It’s hard to pinpoint a value to such a unique piece, but to Lynch, it might as well be the Hope Diamond. It has been authenticated by one of the foremost authorities in the field, Gregory Perino, and Perino’s authentication is so solid that unscrupulous sellers have forged authenticity papers bearing his name. In fact, Lynch said, Perino stated when he saw it that “it was one of the finest points he’s ever seen.”
The Star isn’t on display – Lynch keeps it safely tucked away in a safe deposit box – but many others are, and he’s happy to show them to anyone who’s interested.
“My biggest delight is talking to young people,” Lynch said. “Other countries like Japan and Germany can be more interested in our history than we are. I help people identify what they already have and get them started.”
Interestingly, Lynch, who moved here from Illinois, didn’t place the store by mistake – it’s in the heart of what people in this part of West Tennessee call the “Magic Valley,” and it’s a hotbed for American Indian relics. Lynch wanted to be in the middle of it, and not coincidentally, collectors gravitate to this area. Many of them visit Lynch’s store – just as he planned over 20 years ago.
“Benton County was a cradle of civilization,” Lynch said. “To the Native Americans, this place was rich in natural resources, such as fish, and represented a great deal of natural beauty – it had a lot of the same qualities to them that we seek today. Some of the artifacts from this area are world class.”
That’s not all talk. Just across the river in Dover, an ancient flint quarry provided the material for what might have been the greatest archaeological find in Tennessee, the Duck River Cache. The massive find of relics was in a plowed field in Humphreys County in 1894, and includes pieces as long as 28 inches long – and is viewable to the public at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the McClung Museum. “It’s a find of, certainly, significance for the southeastern United States and the nation,” state archaeologist Michael Moore said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind find, and we’re really fortunate that you can actually go over and take a look at it.”
Finding Arrowheads in Tennessee
Arrowheads can be found anywhere in Tennessee, but they are often discovered at American Indian gravesites and cemeteries where they were used as grave offerings. There are various ways the arrowheads make their way to the surface; most often it’s from erosion or from farming activity. While it’s legal to take arrowheads from the surface of the ground on private property with the landowner’s permission, it’s illegal to do so on public land. Furthermore, it’s a felony to dig for arrowheads on public lands – the same penalty applies for digging at an American Indian gravesite, no matter the age, as it does for digging at any grave. Digging on private land (with the landowner’s approval) isn’t illegal, but many archaeologists recommend against doing so without a trained professional, since other historical information present could be damaged or destroyed.
In terms of historical value, the context in which the arrowhead is found is just as valuable as the item itself. A single arrowhead can be representative of an entire American Indian graveyard, trashpit or settlement.
Charles Bentz, an archaelogical consultant from Knoxville who worked for the University of Tennessee for 20 years as a contract archaeologist, said joining a group such as the Middle Cumberland Archaeological Society can be a great benefit to a budding collector, and observes and teaches the practices involved in responsible collecting.
“For historical purposes, it’s about the context and knowing where things came from, as opposed to having someone come in with just a sack full of arrowheads.
More Information About Collecting Arrowheads