May 12, 2005
Driggs potato field yields ancient artifact
Most people know how important potato fields are to Teton Valley’s history, but recently the potato fields became involved in the valley’s prehistory as well.
Last month, Bonnie Pitblado, a University of Utah researcher, identified a rare 13,000-year-old spearhead. That spearhead came from LeeAnn Hartner of Hyrum, Utah, a Teton Valley native who found the artifact 41 years ago while working on a potato field west of Driggs.
“I was working on a potato combine, and I was a teenager working with my mother, and they had just plowed a new field for potatoes,” Hartner said. “We had seen some pioneer toys come up from the combine a couple days previous, so I was waiting to see what would come up next.
“Then I saw something shiny coming up on the belt,” she said. “I watched it come, but I couldn’t tell what it was.” Hartner got down from the combine and picked it up off the belt. “I grabbed hold of it, and it was covered with clods of dirt, so I picked the dirt off, and here was a four and a half inch spearhead.
“I had no clue,” she said. “I figured it was a few hundred years old at most.”
Hartner has held onto the spearhead for 41 years since then.
“I’ve loved it all these years, but I didn’t have a clue what I had,” said Hartner.
“I have a son who, this was kind of his beginning,” she said. “He was really interested in what I had.” In fact, her son, Andrew Straup, has worked with Dr. Pitblado for the past four years, and in that time he learned how to knap spear and arrowheads himself, using techniques similar to those ancient Americans who formed Hartner’s spearhead.
Straup waited several years before asking his mother to bring her find in for Dr. Pitblado to look at. Finally, one day he told her to bring the spearhead in, for the second annual Prehistoric Artifact Road Show that Pitblado was holding.
“When I walked in, they sent me to the table, and here’s Dr. Pitblado sitting at a round table with three or four other scientists and book writers and magazine writers,” Hartner said.
“She said, ‘What do you got?’ I took it out of the box, laid it on the table, and it was absolutely impressive to me, because I heard four people gasp when I laid it on the table.
“One man sat wringing his hands — he asked, ‘Could I touch it?’”
Dr. Pitblado said that in her years of research, she’s seen upwards of 100,000 artifacts, but before Hartner brought in her spearhead, Pitblado said, “I had yet to see anything definitely Clovis.”
Clovis is the term used to designate a particular type of spearhead that was used throughout North America around 13,000 years ago, and to describe the people who used this type of spearhead. Pitblado said this time period was at the tail end of the last ice age, which means the Clovis people were among the few humans who actually hunted mammoths, giant bison and other large Pleistocene animals.
Pitblado studies the anthropology of ancient people who lived in what is now Eastern Idaho, and although she said evidence of Clovis culture has been found throughout most of North America, so far Hartner’s artifact is the first Clovis find in the area.
Because so little is known about the ancient Americans who lived in southeast Idaho, Pitblado will be coming to Teton Valley this summer with Hartner, both to relocate the site of Hartner’s spearhead and to hold a Prehistoric Artifact Roadshow like the one where she first identified the spearhead. Pitblado said she thinks this area would have been very attractive to members of the Clovis culture, and she has a hunch they may have settled down in the area long enough to have left important archaeological evidence, but she said she needs help to find it.
“It’s kind of an unusual approach,” she said of using a roadshow to find ancient artifacts. “But it’s not an area where any work’s been done. Compared to most places, there’s so little known, we had to take a different approach, and go to the people who dig it up in their fields.”
Pitblado said she believes there may be more people like Hartner in the area, who have discovered ancient artifacts while tilling the ground, and she’s bringing her prehistoric roadshow here in hopes of identifying some of these artifacts and learning where they were found.
“Every time we do it, we have a blast,” she said. “I think that’s part of what universities should do — they should be of some benefit to the community.”
Pitblado said she’ll bring four students with her to help research where Hartner found her spearhead and to follow up on any other leads the roadshow turns up.
Pitblado will be in Teton Valley from July 22 to July 24, and will host her prehistoric roadshow on the evening of Friday, July 23. She said there will be activities for children along with a team of scientists on hand to identify prehistoric artifacts. A location has not yet been determined, but details on the event will follow in the Valley Citizen as they become available.