Jeff Lampe: Bussville resident has an eye for finding American Indian artifacts
At first glance, the reddish object along the Illinois River shoreline appeared to be nothing more than a rock.
Not to Carol Waymire. Twenty years of wandering fields and riverbanks have honed her senses and focused her eyes to details many of us miss completely.
"This is a rim shard. See the designs," Waymire said after bending to pick up what turned out to be a piece of American Indian pottery. "They mixed seashells and clay and baked them over fire. This is probably 600 to 700 years old."
During an evening of hunting along the Illinois River recently, Waymire found a handful of pottery shards and flint pieces. And unlike the rest of the modern-era junk we passed on the riverbank, those implements of a bygone people have some value. They also hold great attraction for Waymire, 46, a Buzzville resident who started hunting arrowheads 20 years ago after an invite from a friend, Mike Wieland of Forest City.
She's been on the lookout for antiquities ever since, often with husband Marvin Waymire at her side. Marvin appreciates that arrowhead hunting is "a cheap date" - a comment that makes Carol smile and nod.
"I'd rather do this than go shopping any time," she said.
Carol enjoys it so much that she's turned arrowhead hunting into almost a year-round hobby. After a rain in the spring and fall is the best time to target fields, since farmers work the ground and uncover American Indian sites. Summer is a prime time for wandering the Illinois River, since lower water levels expose more of the shoreline.
"I bet I've walked every inch of the Illinois River from here to Peoria," she said.
Some shorelines are more productive than others. Carol prefers to hunt off the beaten path near areas known to have been home to Indian villages. She spends much of July and August hunting near Havana any time the river levels drop below 6.5 feet.
In fact, it was two summers ago in August that Carol made her best find to date - a fishing lure carved from a mussel shell that's believed to be close to 1,000 years old. She was walking a shoreline in Mason County that day when she looked into the river and saw a uniquely shaped white object.
"At first I thought it was a bone. But when I wiped the mud off, it ended up being a fishing lure," Carol said. "I took it to Dickson Mounds (Museum), and they said it was like hitting the Lotto.
Carol calls the lure her "best find" in a collection that includes hundreds of arrowheads, axe heads, fishing weights, celts (used to carve canoes) and pottery pieces. Some she gives to her grandchildren, including 4-year-old Jake, who joined us during our hunt.
Other finds are placed in hand-made display boxes. Still others decorate the yard, which Carol said "is full of Indian rocks."
Many of those items were spotted on the sandy shoreline. Still others come from a river whose clarity is surprisingly good close to shore.
"If you see an arrowhead in the water, you can distinctly see it," she said.
Earlier this summer, friend Mike Turk of Havana found a large, oval stone with a hole in the middle that had been used as a canoe anchor.
As with any collectible, there's money tied up in American Indian artifacts. A Fulton County arrowhead recently brought $24,000 at auction in New Berlin, according to Marvin. "And they've had tomahawk heads that went for $12,000 apiece," he said.
Money is not the attraction for Carol, though. She regularly gives arrowheads to friends and family. After our outing she handed me the pottery shards.
"I just like being out here. It's peaceful. After a long day of work, this is kind of a stress reliever," she said. "And it's kind of neat when you find something to think that you're the first person to pick up an arrowhead in maybe 1,500 years."
Jeff Lampe is Journal Star outdoors columnist. Write to him at 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call (309) 686-3212 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois River lure dates back more than 900 years
The fishing lure Carol Waymire found two summers ago along the Illinois River is the oldest of its kind found in this area.
Alan Harn of Dickson Mounds Museum said the lure is thought to date back more than 900 years. The lure was found in a Maples Mill site from the Late Woodland period that was believed to have been occupied between 950 to 1100.
The lure was used by American Indians for ice fishing from inside a teepee-shaped shelter. The lure, which is made of mussel and shaped in the form of a fish with engraved lines on the tail, was attached to a line dangled through a hole in the ice. An angler would jig the lure in hopes of attracting a fish that could then be speared with a harpoon made of wood or wood with a tip made from bone or antler.
Harn said a handful of other fishing lures have been found in Illinois, but those are all of the Oneota Phase and most date back to the 1300s.