BUZZVILLE, Ill. -- 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 a late summer evening of hunting along the Illinois River, 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.
She's been on the lookout for antiquities ever since.
"I'd rather do this than go shopping any time," she said.
Waymire 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.
Off the beaten path
Some shorelines are more productive than others. Waymire 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, Ill., any time the river levels drop below 6.5 feet.
In fact, it was two summers ago in August that Waymire 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 oddly 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," Waymire said. "I took it to Dickson Mounds [Museum], and they said it was like hitting the Lotto."
Waymire calls the lure her "best find" in a collection that includes hundreds of arrowheads, ax heads, fishing weights and pottery pieces.
Many of those items were spotted on the sandy shoreline. Still others come from a river whose clarity is surprisingly good close to shore.
An arrowhead in the water can be seen clearly, she said.
Earlier this summer, Waymire's 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 Waymire, 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."