An Unexpected, Prehistoric Chert Blade

Steven Bender

It will be five years this spring since I found my first Native American artifact, and I enjoy looking for and finding them any chance I get. It's equally exciting to find one when I'm not technically looking.

Last spring a buddy of mine was having issues with groundhogs eating his bean sprouts in a Cape Girardeau County field, and I volunteered to do my best to remove the offending varmints.

The beans that afternoon were ankle-high with leaves slowly filling out, but there was still visible dirt between the rows, and any abnormality in the soil stood out. I walked around the field perhaps five yards in and looked for nibbled-on bean sprouts and groundhog den holes. Before I found any of those that day, I found a breathtaking ancient Indian blade half-buried in the loose soil. (See photo, chert blade shown with modern Hen and Rooster knife.)

The 3 and 3/4 inch-long blade was made from Burlington chert, the material possibly taken from Crescent quarry, a rock formation in St. Louis and Jefferson Counties.

It's hard to say if the blade was being re-sharpened through flake removal, or if the barb on top helped with hafting, but either way, it's a complete artifact with only a slight nick on the cutting edge. One can easily picture this blade hafted with deer sinew and pine tar to a deer antler or bone.

Finding the artifact brought numerous questions to mind: What era was it from? Woodland or Mississippian? What was its last use? Skinning a deer, or cutting reeds? Why was it left in this spot just 90 yards from a creek? Whatever the case, its turning up 1,000 to 2,000 years later in this condition is impressive. I have found only a couple of other artifacts on this same property, including a smaller heat-treated blade with a snapped base and possibly a preform, but this blade is certainly the more interesting.

So I was able to remove a couple pesky groundhogs for my buddy. Their offspring will be back in the spring, munching on newly sprouted corn or beans. If I get a chance to visit that field again this year, I'll have to budget more time to see if other ancient artifacts turn up unexpectedly. Regardless, it was a blessing to recover an ancient blade of Burlington chert.