An Ohio University archaeologist unearths an arrowhead from the end of the ice age

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — An Ohio University archaeologist’s unexpected discovery in southeast Ohio may bring new insight into the state’s earliest settlers.

David Lamp stumbled upon the 13,000-year-old arrowhead fragment in June during a dig in the region. Its age means it originated roughly at the end of the last ice age — far earlier than what Lamp expected for the site.

Lamp described it as a once-in-a-lifetime find.

“Most archaeologists never experience this,” Lamp said. “I’d like to say that I was perfectly composed and really professional, but I was pretty excited when I found it.”

Replica of a completed arrowhead based on Lamp's finding.
A replica of a completed arrowhead based on Lamp’s finding. [Ahmed Hamed | WOUB]
The quality of the piece made it easy to analyze. Lamp quickly inferred the age of the arrowhead from how it was cut.

“The base on this is really distinctive and it was never done again on this continent,” Lamp said.

As far as Lamp could tell, the piece had not been moved since its original owner left it there. There was no sun damage or signs of cracking.

More significantly, the fragment was found in the remains of a rock shelter. Lamp said researchers did not previously think people from that time used rock shelters. The presence of the fragment may put that in question.

It’s a small clue about a period that remains largely mysterious to archaeologists.

“That event (the end of the ice age) isn’t really well understood and the resolution we have is measured in thousands of years,” Lamp said.

Lamp emphasized most days on the job do not involve major finds. However, for an archaeologist, failing to find something is also a win.

“There are a lot of days where you’re not finding anything, but that’s data too. You know where they weren’t,” Lamp said.

Still, he doesn’t deny the thrill of making a tangible discovery.

Lamp said his passion for archaeology dates to his childhood, when he went rummaging for artifacts at a Native American burial site near his family’s church.

“I really felt like a kid again,” Lamp said.