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Can metal detectors find Native American Artifacts and arrowheads?

Native AmericanMany detectorists are wondering if their machines could detect Indian artifacts especially arrowheads.

The answer depends on the type of the artifact and the time when it was made.

Native Americans didn’t know how to handle metal stuff except for copper.

So, if the relic is made out of copper, you can find it with your metal detector.

But you won’t find a lot of these because Indians used to consider copper as a sign of wealth.

So few wealthy people had copper artifacts.

Other types of relics like arrowheads are made from stones. These are invisible to a metal detector.

However, after the discovery of the new world, Native Americans learned how to use steel and other metals because of their contact with the Europeans.

So, they used the newly introduced materials to make tools and arrowheads. In this case, a detector could easily find them.

Is it legal? Can I keep them? Can I sell them?

Before you start hunting native Americans artifacts, it’s important to know your local laws about the subject.

You don’t want cops to arrest you while you’re excavating relics without having a permit. They may be confiscated. And you may end up fined or in jail.

According to the info that I found on the internet (I’m not a lawyer, this is not a legal advice in any way…)

If the archeological site is located on a private property, there’s no problem as long as you get the owner’s permission. It should be a written permission.

However, if you find any human remains on the site, you have to stop digging and call the cops.

You’re not allowed to dig graves to loot relics even if they’re on a private property and you have the owner’s permission to do so.

Creek hunting is a little tricky. Are you allowed to search for relics in streambeds? What if they’re navigable by boats?

This depends from state to state. Florida isn’t like Alabama isn’t like Mississippi…As I said, I’m not a lawyer. So you need to be careful and ask an expert.

You’re not allowed to recover or to acquire (purchased, given, exchanged…) artifacts brought from public or Indian lands.

You can apply for a permit to excavate Native Americans artifacts located on public lands or Indian lands.

You need to give the federal land manager all the documents and information he needs before giving you the permission.

The permit isn’t for commercial purposes. Your mission in the site aims to acquire more knowledge about the history of the area.

Any relics found on the site belong to the US and will be kept in a museum, a university or another suitable place.

If the manager thinks that the recovery of relics may destroy or damage the site, the Indian tribe that owns the land will be notified to know if the place has any religious or cultural value for them.

You can get more details in this PDF (ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESOURCES PROTECTION ACT OF 1979).

Common Indian artifacts

You can find many relics that Indian used to make hundreds and thousands of years ago. But, I will list some of them.

Arrowheads and spearheads are popular relics. They were made from a variety of materials: slate, quartzite, flint, obsidian…

You have to train your eyes to identify and recover them easily. They have sharp edges and flaked surfaces.

Tomahawk is an ax that can be held by a single hand. It can be used to chop wood or for battles (thrown or direct contact).

This tool is formed by a sharpened stone attached to a wooden handle. After the contact with the Europeans, they started using a metal blade instead.

The metal blade makes the tool becomes more effective. And this means that you can find them using your metal detector.

On the opposite side of the blade, you can find a pipe. It’s called a pipe tomahawk.

pipeClay pipes: tobacco is originally from South America but it was brought to the northern part of the continent. Indians used to smoke tobacco to offer prayers.

You can find many other items like ceremonial breastplates (they’re made out of copper, which means they’re visible to a detector), beads, pottery shards, knife blades, rifles, bullets, bells, hammerheads, harpoons, needles, jewelry, headdresses…

How can you find them?

It’s not a good idea to start looking for Indian relics randomly in any forest. You should locate some old Indian campsites.

To do this, visit your local library or museum and look for info about the native tribes, their camps, hunting tools, and trading marketplaces… check some historical sources and ask experts (you could contact your local historical society).

Natives moved once or twice (or more) each generation looking for food when the resources of their areas were exhausted.

This means that they should be close to water sources and waterways. They provided fish and were transportation ways (canoes). So search for artifacts, stone tools and pottery in creek beds and lakeshores.

They also used some primitive agricultural techniques. This means that you can find some of their tools.

Places where ritual ceremonials used to be held are very good spots because there could be a lot of copper which you can find using your metal detector.

These artifacts could very big like the ceremonial breastplates which looks like a shield made from copper or other materials.

Copper is considered by Indians to have a supernatural origin and to have some healing abilities.

It is the only metal natives knew and have used extensively especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and nearby the great lakes.

Indians found native copper in nodules. They manipulate it using hammer stones.

If you find a lot of copper pieces in some area, then you should find some tools that a coppersmith used thousands of years ago.

This was known as the old copper culture. Copper artifacts could also be found in other places throughout the United States.

It was transported by canoes to other states like Louisiana and Florida.

In addition to the sacred copper artifacts, this metal was used to make jewelry, headdresses, other status and wealth-related items, normal tools, and as money.

For other artifacts like arrowheads (if it’s made prior to the contact with Europeans), you need to train your eyes to distinguish between natural rocks and relics because, unlike copper, your detector is unable to find them.

You can find few of them laying on the surface (clean, covered with a layer of mud or hidden in the grass) or in the same hole, you’ve dug to recover a target while metal detecting.

You can sift dirt in old Indian campsites. This method is cumbersome. And if you have a lot of money, use a ground penetrating radar.


Being able to search for Native Americans’ artifacts depends on the materials it’s made from (copper or other) and the time when it was made (before or after the contact with Europeans).

Indian artifacts will be the oldest you can find in the US. Civil and independence war relics will be the first relics brought by Europeans (unless the Vikings truly made it to the new world and Spanish Conquistadors went deep inside northern America)

The older the relic the better. You can sell it on eBay and upgrade your metal detector.

But, many hunters aren’t looking for money. For some, it’s just a hobby. For others, it’s a way to study history.

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