Uncovering Native American Treasures

While his day job for 42 years was operating a paint and body shop in Cambridge, Terry Crannell has spent every free hour from his childhood through adulthood walking the farm fields of the Eastern Shore looking for Native American artifacts, specifically arrowheads.

“Once I found my first arrowhead, I was totally gone. Holding it in my hand and realizing that the guy who made it had to deal with a whole wild, different world. I wondered what the item had seen in its lifetime. It interested me so much that I have pursued the hobby throughout my lifetime,” Terry says.

Terry Crannell credits a “mystery stone” that he was enamored with in a rock garden at his grandparents’ home at Cabin Creek with inspiring his interest in stones and rocks.

Terry credits a “mystery stone” that he was enamored with in a rock garden at his grandparents’ home at Cabin Creek with inspiring his interest in stones and rocks. It was in this same garden that he found his first Native American artifacts. His hobby expanded in the 1960s when he began walking recently plowed farm fields near East New Market with a friend. Over the years, he developed close relationships with area farmers who he got permission from to access their properties to do his hunting. These early years of artifact hunting yielded quite a variety of Native American arrowheads, axes and knives, as well as fossils, shells, and even sharks’ teeth.

“It was like opening up a window to the past,” Terry adds.

This piece of Indian art, shaped like a little frog, is an unusual artifact found in Marshyhope Creek that may have been used for fishing.

Terry began organizing his artifacts by site (location) as he realized early on the significance of his finds and the importance they would play in telling the story of habitation on the Eastern Shore. He’s been the past president of the Mid-Shore Chapter of the Maryland Archeological Society where members focused on sharing their artifacts with others through special shows and exhibitions. Over the years, shows were held at such public venues as the Dorchester County Historical Society, the American Legion in Cambridge, the Tidewater Inn in Easton, and Martinak State Park.

Terry has also shared his findings at Native American events in the region, including the Nause-Waiwash Pow Wow and at Handsell Chicone Village Days where the first Indian longhouse was built in over 300 years.

He reflects, “It’s a pleasure to share what an amazing history we have to tell. It continues to be very important to share what we find with the public and with local archeologists. We have even had the Smithsonian express interest many times in the purity of the artifacts we find here on the Shore. The information learned is priceless.”

Terry explains that the Native Americans made arrowheads differently here on the Shore because they only had access to glacial pebbles and rocks instead of quality material. The result was a generally smaller arrowhead. A special arrowhead called a Chesapeake diamond is a small point unique to the Chesapeake Bay area.

Terry says that he educated himself in archeology by attending meetings and conferences when he could and reading voraciously to learn as much as he could from others in the field. He soon learned the styles and attributes of locally found artifacts that often told a lot about where the artifacts were made. Over the decades, he found several artifacts that had come from other areas demonstrating the trading that was going on throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore with such local Native American tribes, the forefathers of the Choptanks, Nanticokes, Pocomoke, and Nause-Waiwash.

Terry Crannell and his children, Jamie and Bryan, on one of their family excursions looking for artifacts in the 1970s.

Attending some meetings with him was his wife and two sons who enjoyed sharing in the hobby while on camping trips and day trips throughout the Eastern Shore. Later, his grandchildren learned to like his hobby. He comments, “The solitude of family companionship and artifact hunting is a large part of the enjoyment for me. A form of meditation…”

In 2008, Terry became the Curator of Indian Artifacts for the Dorchester County Historical Society where he organized and selected artifacts for the organization’s Native American exhibits and helped educate Dorchester County Public School children who regularly visit the museum each school year. He also is serving as president of the South Dorchester Folk Museum which has recorded over 150 videos of the area’s local history.

According to Terry, “We knew that Native Americans have been on the Delmarva Peninsula for 12,000 to 14,000 years. Recent findings of Mastodon bones and a spear off of the Virginia coast, however, indicate that Native Americans may have been here over 23,500 years ago.”

This arrowhead has intricate flaking, indicating the sophistication of its maker.

Over the years, the number of artifacts being found has decreased. This is largely due to farming techniques, environmental regulations that have created larger buffers around farm fields, hunting rights (game), and insurance regulations. In 1994, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) protected Native American burial grounds throughout the country. These regulations require museums that have had any federal grants to comply and give any artifacts requested by recognized tribes to be returned to tribes. This means that many museums have had to make casts of artifacts and return the originals to appropriate tribes.

Terry himself was graciously honored to participate in the repatriation ceremony of Sandy Hill burial remains that were given back to Native Americans in Dorchester County. At one time, Sandy Hill in Cambridge was the largest ceremonial center on the East Coast.

Terry acknowledges the importance of honoring the burial rights of Native Americans. Over the years, he has not purposely “dug” for artifacts, as an adult, unless part of an official archeological dig sponsored by area field schools. Instead, he has discovered artifacts turned up in the earth through routine farming in local fields and found on eroding shorelines.

He concludes, “Dorchester County has had significant Native American findings because of the special interest in artifact hunting by the people, for generations, who have lived here over the years. My role and the roles of others in collecting artifacts are helping to preserve history and help tell the story of how Native Americans lived and traded on the Eastern Shore.”

Terry suggests if you are on the shoreline or in an Eastern Shore field, be sure to look down and see if the Creator has selected you to be the one to care for the next artifact that shows up.

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