By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
For decades Bill Breidinger has been fascinated by the ancient people who first walked upon the red clay dirt and fertile Delta soil of Mississippi and the surrounding region.
When he talks of those people and the life they had to lead in order to survive, he sounds more like a child talking about his favorite toys, rather than a man unearthing and peering into the lives of people from long ago. His enthusiasm, as well as the artifacts collected by almost 100 other historians like him, will be on full display Feb. 8 at the Frank Cochran Center during the Native American Indian Artifact Show.
"This is a passion," Breidinger admitted. "And one of the great things about this is showing what I have collected to children. Sometimes when they look at these arrowheads, pots and other tools used by an ancient people, you see the spark of wonder in their eyes. A child's imagination, curiosity, and wonderment is amazing and to be able to bring that out, well, it is just a great feeling."
According to Breidinger, the life of prehistoric man when he entered North America some 16,000 years ago from Asia was filled with the harshness, and beauty of the new land. The only life the first occupants of North America knew was to follow the herds of animals that sustained their lives. Weather conditions were harsh. The unfamiliar territory was constantly presenting challenges to overcome. The prehistoric man was always moving, searching, learnin and adapting.
"Many of the artifacts that will be on display will show how these people formed weapons and tools by hand," Breidinger. "To see the individual marks on an arrowhead, for instance, you have to understand an ancient person produced this after hours of painstaking labor. That is not even counting the spear or arrow to which it was attached, or the fletching of the arrow, or the materials used to secure the arrowhead to the arrow, the bow, and so forth. This is what they had to do to get food and to provide clothing for themselves. It is really remarkable."
Breidinger said when he first uncovers an artifact, chills run down his spine because he knows his are the first human hands to hold the object in thousands of years.
Hunting massive animals — mammoths, mastodons and bears — was a dangerous affair, Breidinger said. He said the hunters had to figure out a way to keep some distance between them and their aggressive prey so they created the Atl-Atl.
"The Atl-Atl was an 18-inch to 24-inch stick that was used to throw the hunters spear or lance," Breidinger said. "With the use of the Atl-Atl, the hunter was able to get as much as 50 percent more distance out of his spear."
Breidinger said the key to the success of the Atl-Atl was a smooth, polished stone with a hole drilled through the center that was placed half way up the Atl-Atl. This gave the weapon a favorable counterbalance that improved distance, accuracy and penetrating power. Breidinger has an example of this stone, called the Bannerstone. It has been authenticated and carbon dated to about 6,000 years ago. Breidinger said he has been offered $15,000 for the stone.
But some of the members of the group slowly discovered alternatives to hunting — farming.
"As centuries passed, small groups began to ban together for mutual support and protection," Breidinger said. "They began to depend more and more on each other and that is when small villages began to spring up. It is here we see a change in the artifacts."
Hunting, fishing and other forms of harvesting meat and hide for the members was still important but the fact that some of these early settlements were placed in the rich, fertile land along rivers and creeks signaled the birth of agriculture and farming. Maize, corn and the native sunflower plant were the first crops grown and with this new food source came another innovation, Breidinger said.
"Pottery helped advance the hunter/gatherers way of life in a huge way," Breidinger said. "They actually left the forest for the field. About 50 percent of the things we find are along creeks."
On one occasion when while talking to a fellow collector, Breidinger said he mentioned that the search for ancient artifacts is a passion of his.
"He responded by saying, 'Passion? It's an addiction!' We never know when we cross over the line from passion to addiction but this is one of the great things about what we do," Breidinger said.
The show is free to the public. Doors will open up at 8 a.m. and the show will end at 3:30 p.m. For more information contact Bill Breidinger at 601-635-3222.