Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Beach Sea Oats

Beach sea oats are the most common plants that you will see on the beaches of the Alabama Gulf Coast. They are beautiful to look at, but controlling beach erosion is their greater purpose.

People who don't give much thought to the beach, except to enjoy it during a vacation, usually think of sand dunes as just big piles of sand, but that is not true. Without sea oats, there wouldn't be any sand dunes. Sea oats hold the dunes in place, and make it possible for the dunes to get larger, offering more and more protection for the beach as they grow larger and larger.

Sea oats grow on dunes from Florida to Virginia and then around the entire Gulf to eastern Mexico and into the northern part of the West Indies. They are very salt tolerant and they thrive close to the sea. Their large system of underground roots and stems helps to reduce the erosion of the sand dunes.

Gulf Shores Sand DuneGrowing in colonies, sea oats produce few seeds. They spread underground from rhizomes and they get distributed by winds and the shifting of sand.

Leaves grow to a maximum of about two feet in length and they are about an inch wide. Above the ground, stems on sea oats grow up to six feet tall, and they contain graceful, drooping clusters which are called panicles. Panicles contain seed heads which are called spikelets.

Cereal can be made from the dried and cooked seeds. Seed heads which have matured are used in floral arrangements, such as pretty wreaths. However, it is not permitted to pick them for those purposes on the Alabama Gulf Coast because they are protected by law.

It is against the law to pick the wild plants, but you can easily buy them from native plant nurseries which have permits to sell them.

Sea oats withstand heat, salt, wind and poor soil very well, but pedestrian traffic can cause major damage. Most municipalities have enacted laws that prohibit walking on sand dunes and most public beaches now have boardwalks around and over the dunes.

After a strong storm, beach towns go into crisis mode to rebuild the dunes. This can be labor intensive and time consuming. During the last decade, it has been hard for beach towns like Orange Beach and Gulf Shores to get ahead of all of the bad weather events.

Sea oats provide a significant service of stabilizing the ocean shoreline and sand dunes. Without beach sea oats, beaches lose ground. Before the best beaches were commercialized this was not really a problem. Extreme weather events just moved the beaches. With commercialization there is nowhere for the beach to move. Without sand dunes and the sea oats that hold them in place, the sea would eventually consume what man has built.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Building Sandcastles

There isn’t one person out there that doesn’t have a memory of a childhood beach vacation where they built sandcastles. That is, unless you’ve never been to the beach and if you haven’t, you are so missing out on a great time!

It is believed that the ancient Egyptians built sand sculptures. They did this to create a model for the actual building they were going to construct. Although there is no actual documentation on this, it sounds pretty realistic as Egypt is predominantly sand!
You really don’t need a lot of things to build a sandcastle or sand sculpture. Buckets or pails of various sizes will be necessary to form a base for your castle. Smaller cups from Solo cup size to medicine dosing cups can also be helpful if you wish to make your castle a little more interesting. Plastic forks, knives, spoons, toothpicks and dental floss are useful if you want to make some elaborate designs on your sand creation. A small shovel will be needed to get the sand into your bucket and will prove important if you are planning to surround your castle with a moat!

Dry sand will never hold the shape of your container. It is essential to add water to the sand. Professional sand sculptors suggest mixing eight parts of sand with one part of water for best holding power. Be careful that the consistency is right because if it is too wet, you will create a landslide on your sand sculpture.
Most people just get to the beach and start building their sandcastles all willy-nilly. Why not do a little planning the day before your trip to the beach? Kids especially are going toe enjoy this because all kids love drawing and they will go to sleep that night dreaming about sandcastles.

Although professionals spend weeks or months designing what they will build, the average beachgoers won’t need to dedicate that much time to planning. Just grab a piece of scrap paper and start drawing a design. Don’t go crazy your first time out. Keep it simple so you will be able to successfully build your castle. Too many details will potentially lead to failure.
The key to building sandcastles is patience. Start with the base. This will be created by using the larger containers. Once your base has been set, you can begin to add other levels and tiers in your design. Be very careful to put levels on slowly so your entire castle doesn’t tumble down!

Once you have the tiers added, you can begin to create designs on your sandcastle. The spoon is perfect for making gingerbread style designs on your castle. Do not push the spoon into the sand too far or you will cause sand to erode. The knife can be used to create straight lines. Using the fork, you can trail across your work for a neo-classic style look. The toothpick is awesome for doing any freestyle type of embellishments such as swirls, zigzags, circles or anything you can imagine. Professional sand sculptors use toothpicks to sign their names to their work.

It doesn’t matter how detailed or elaborate your sandcastle is, the important thing is that you have a great time building it!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Interview with David Schneider of Odyssey Sea Glass

David Schneider is an interesting fellow. At his day job he's a medical transcripionist. On his off time he surfs, plays guitar... and combs the beaches. After reading my interview with David, you will want to know even more about this fascinating hobby.

David, what exactly is sea glass?

It begins as any glass object, such as bottles, windows, dishes, et cetera. When a glass object becomes broken or useless, it is thrown in the trash.

If that trash winds up a beach, the tumbling action of the waves among the rocks and sand wears all the harsh edges off the glass shards, leaving them nicely rounded.

The water leaches certain minerals out of the glass, leaving the surface finely etched or frosted. What once was trash becomes a thing of beauty. The term beach glass is a more general term and includes glass from the shores of large lakes where there is enough wave action to provide the necessary tumbling and etching.

How did you get involved in the hobby?

Well, I got pulled into it because my wife, Lin, liked picking it up. Since she is artistic, she began making wire-wrapped jewelry with it. However, she has always liked finding it better than making the jewelry.

I have to admit, I was skeptical at first. But what can you do? Gotta join the wife. But then I found out what a danger that was. Like a lot of people these days, I got hooked, especially when I found a few of the rare pieces and learned the difference between the worthless and glass that could be worth hundreds of dollars.

Since I grew up surfing in California, and Lin has always loved the water, we have lived most of our lives close to the beach; California, Hawaii, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and here in Washington. We have also collected glass in other areas while visiting.

I would think that most people, even beach lovers, aren't familiar with this collectible. How popular is the hobby?

Well, I have been really surprised at the large number of people who are crazy about it… And I mean crazy, like fanatics! Of course, we ourselves are not crazy… Are we?

Some families here in the U.S.A. and Canada have been “collecting” beach glass for generations without really thinking that there was anybody else doing it. Then came the Internet and the diffusion of knowledge about lots of things, this hobby included.

We currently get about 500 people a day visiting our site, Odyssey Sea Glass, every day from more than 30 countries.

Everybody has seen glass on the beach and most people either walk around it or pick it up to dispose of later. Is it possible to tell at a glance that I've spotted sea glass and not just litter? Or do I have to pick it up and study it?

That is a good question and really is the basis for any kind of collecting hobby – is it collectible? Is it valuable or rare?

It’s like baseball cards or matchbooks – some are worth nothing, others are worth a lot, but at first you don’t know.

There are a number of factors that are discussed in detail on our web site, but the main factor is this: Where does it cease to become a glass shard and become a collectible piece?

Basically, the glass needs to be well rounded on all edges. The surface must be totally frosted with none of the original shine showing. That is when it can be called sea or beach glass. Other factors such as color, size, and shape then come into play when considering the rareness/value/beauty.

Once that you have decided that you've found sea glass do you take all of it home, or do you leave any of it?

At first you will want to pick up every piece of glass you see. But as it starts to accumulate and you learn more about the glass, you begin to recognize quickly whether it is worth bending over for (pieces with a side cracked off or shiny, for example)… although you MIGHT miss a valuable piece if you don’t look closely sometimes.

I was picking up some obvious colored pieces of sea glass and saw what looked like a pebble, black like the rest of the rocks. But I though, hmmm, it just has a look to it. When we checked it out later, it was a rare very dark red color.

That gets us to the next question. How valuable is sea glass?

Well, like anything collectible, that depends pretty much on what someone is willing to pay for it. A rare orange, red, or yellow piece in “jewelry grade” condition and the size of a quarter could go from $100 on up to $300 or more. The common colors such as white (clear frosted glass) and “beer bottle” green and brown are worth less than a dollar, usually, even in perfect condition.

I spend a lot of time on the beach, most of it on smooth white sand of Gulf Shores, Alabama. I don't see much litter unless we've just had a tropical storm or stronger. Do I need to look a little closer or find a better "sea glass beach?"

Both. It is possible to find sea glass on any beach...but generally flat, sandy beaches are not going to provide much. It gets buried too easily and deep. You can narrow down the type of beach to look for, but there are so many factors that come into play that I couldn't do it justice in this interview. I would suggest looking at the detailed information on our web site.

Do collectors generally just collect the raw material, or do they have it fashioned into jewelry or or other objects?

Most people will take it home and put in jars or whatever along with their seashells, beach rocks, and driftwood. However, a lot of people want to know what they can make with it … They want it out where they can enjoy looking at it.

So sea glass crafts are getting very popular, and we do feature a lot of ideas and projects that others have made, along with some detailed beach glass crafts projects that most people can do. The possibilities are endless, from picture frames to wind chimes to splash guards and driveway inlays.

On the other end of the scale, sea glass jewelry has become VERY CLASSY and there are many artists who specialize in making bracelets, necklaces, pendants, earrings, and even rings out of sea glass.

Also, having your own find made into a fine piece of jewelry is very satisfying. A good sea glass jeweler will turn it into a one-of-a-kind personalized gift for a special person… or for yourself.

Have you been able to date any of your finds?

Yes, although most often it is not possible. There are characteristics of glass that can allow you to identify the period of time when it was made if those characteristics are present, i.e., bubbles in the glass would indicate that it is not of modern origin.

When you find pieces that have shapes, letters, and certain colors, many times you can identify within a few years how old it is and occasionally even its exact origin. Some interesting very collectible pieces are bottle stoppers, figurines, and marbles.

Of course, by definition it is worn smooth, so for the most part, identifying the date or origin is going to be difficult.

For those who don't get to the beach often, where can they buy it?

You can buy sea glass jewelry as well by the piece or in bulk on sites like ours or on eBay. There are a lot of fakes though, so take your time and learn the differences. Invest wisely!

David, Thank you for your time. I'm sure you are going to have a lot of people searching for sea glass during their next beach vacation.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Prehistoric Indian Artifacts Interview with Steve Valentine

I have always enjoyed reading and collecting history. I picked up a couple dozen arrowheads and several other prehistoric Indian artifacts when I was a kid, mostly just stumbling across them because I was in the woods so much.

About two years ago, I made up my mind to spend as much time as it took to learn how to find arrowheads when I wanted to find them. I found that there were some expert prehistoric Indian artifact hunters who were happy to share their knowledge. Steve Valentine is at the top of that list. I'm pleased to have this extensive interview with Steve on my website.

Steve, How did you get involved in the hobby of hunting and collecting prehistoric Indian artifacts?

Arrowhead Photo My father got me started when I was very young, around 5 or 6 years old. He always took us on a family outing every Sunday and he would let us boys choose what we wanted to do. One day we couldn’t make up our minds so he said he would take us arrowhead hunting so my two brothers and I headed off with dad to try our hand at finding some.

Dad took us to a place he had hunted when he was a kid and gave us the basics of what to look for and the first hour or so we all found flint chips while dad was finding a few arrowheads. I was walking beside my father when I looked down and saw my first arrowhead. I yelled, “Look dad, there’s one”. I picked it up and was just amazed at what I had just found and my passion for the hobby was born. That first little damaged point started a hobby that has spanned 45 years and will continue for hopefully many more years to come.

A lot of people take a break from their hobbies and pick it up again at some point in their lives. Has your level of interest for prehistoric Indian artifacts ever faltered?

No, not really. Once I found that first point I was hooked. Whenever it was my turn to pick what we would do on our Sunday outings I always chose hunting for arrowheads as long as the conditions were right. After I got my drivers license and didn’t need to be driven anywhere I went every chance I could and my passion for finding artifacts has never waned. I still try to go at least once a week and sometimes more than that in the spring right after the first plow.

Do you have other family members who collect prehistoric Indian artifacts?

Indian Drilled Tooth I have one brother who also collects. He wasn’t really all that interested in them when we were younger and usually complained when I picked arrowhead hunting for our Sunday trips. He would find a few though and I would end up with everything we found because I was the oldest and they all knew I would take care of them. After my brother married a woman whose father had also collected he began to collect artifacts himself and has built up a fairly decent collection. He doesn’t have near the amount I have, but he does have some nice pieces.

I hunt prehistoric Indian artifacts myself, and I am in awe of your collection. I know you haven't kept an exact count, but do you have an estimate of the number of pieces in your collection?

I tried counting my collection a few years back and I got up to around 12,000 pieces and I quit counting and never finished. I would estimate I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,000 pieces counting everything. That would include Scrapers, Points, Blades, Beads, Stone Tools, Bone Tools, Hammerstones, etc.
Arrowhead Frame
I would venture to guess I have around 10,000 arrowheads and 5,000 of “everything else” like the things I mentioned above. As for the number of personal finds, I would say around 90% to 95% of that is personal finds. I keep telling myself that one day I will get an actual count of my collection, but finding the time and the patience is hard to do.

If it was touched by a prehistoric Indian I bring it home, but if I had a collection like yours I might start leaving some where they are. As your collection began to grow over time, did you grow more discriminating regarding what you put in your prehistoric Indian artifact collection?

Indian Pottery Handle Sort of. I still try to bring almost everything I find home, especially if it is a worked piece. I have gotten to the point though that I don’t bring home Pottery Shards unless they are a Rim Shard or a decorated piece. I was getting box after box of shards and had to quit bringing them home or I was going to run out of room.

I do the same thing with Hammerstones now as well. Unless it’s a really nice Hammerstone I don’t bring them home. I will usually pick them up and take them to the side of the field and put them on a fence post or some place where someone will see them so they can have them if they want it. I do bring home every worked piece of flint I find, no matter what size or what it is. If it’s worked, it’s coming home with me.

You mentioned some of the items in your prehistoric Indian artifact collection other than arrowheads. Tell us more.

About 20 years ago I met a guy in the field that became one of my best friends. He introduced me to hunting Ft Ancient village sites and showed me how to hunt for items other than arrowheads. These sites produce lots of Shell and Bone items like Beads, Pendants, Bone Awls, Deer Antler Arrowpoints and Flakers, Pottery items, Discoidals, and Pipes.

I have hundreds of Beads now and lots of Bone Tools and other items made from Bone and Shell. I also find a lot of Stone Tools like Axes, Celts, Pestles, Chisels, Hammerstones, and Grooved Mauls. I have found a few Pipes and just found one of my best ever this spring. I also find lots of Drills and Scrapers. Scrapers are very abundant on sites and you can pick up a pocketful very quickly.

I'm sure it would have to be something beyond special, but I have to ask,"Do you have a favorite prehistoric Indian artifact in your collection?"
Pipe Artifact Indian It would be really hard to pick just one favorite find. I have a few points that are really nice and are in almost pristine condition and they are really special to me. I also just found a really nice ¾ Grooved Axe on December 17th of last year that was a really special find.

I guess if I had to pick just one it would have to be the Pipe I just found in April of this year. It is made from a very fine grained sandstone and is in pristine condition. There isn’t a scratch, nick, or mark on it. It is in the same exact shape as when it was made and it was a surface find. The best part about it though is it is an Effigy Pipe. It has a mouth cut into the bottom of the Pipe and if you turn it upside down it looks like a baby bird waiting to be fed.

Keeping up with all of your prehistoric Indian artifacts has to be tough. I've seen the photos. I have a very small collection compared to yours, and sometimes I have trouble locating things. How do you do it?

I have almost everything I own setting out on display either in a Riker mount, a wooden tray, on a shelf, or in a showcase. Most of my collection is marked showing where it was found. I also do site trays which means everything in the tray is from the same site so I don’t have to mark the individual pieces. Having everything in a tray or on a shelf in a showcase makes it a lot easier to keep track of, plus I can go out to my artifact room and look at it all any time I want without having to drag a bunch of pieces out of a closet which is really nice.

I would enjoy this hobby if my finds were monetarily worthless, but a lot of people see dollar signs behind every collectible. What kind of changes have you seen over your collecting life regarding monetary values for authentic prehistoric Indian artifacts?

I think it has ruined the aspect of collecting just for the fun of it and to find nice pieces. Now everyone wants to know what something is worth. To me they are all priceless works of art. I love taking my artifacts to shows and displaying them for others to see, but it never fails that someone will come by and ask the value of a piece or make me an offer that I have to refuse and sometimes repeatedly.

Arrowhead Display I also don’t believe in “authenticating” artifacts for the purpose of selling. You see these papers on eBay and at shows that “so and so” says an artifact is real. Just what makes them an expert? I have seen pieces that were deemed authentic by these so called experts that I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole.

I remember a few years before he died that Greg Perino was fooled by a flintknapper with some fake Clovis Points, so even the experts can be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I will buy a piece on occasion but only if I think it’s good and not because it has a paper with it and I usually only buy from someone I know or from the person that found the piece. I have however never sold a piece. I have given a few away to kids and friends, but never sold any.

How have increased values for prehistoric Indian artifacts changed the marketplace.

Indian Bone Tools I think the prices have gone up because some people have more money that they have sense. I have seen things go for completely outrageous prices at auctions and I think that helps drive up the price on other pieces. EBay has helped flood the market with fakes because the average Joe who just wants some artifacts for his or her office or home are buying them as real and don’t know any better. Then after they die or decide they don’t want them anymore they are resold or passed down through the family and no one knows they are fake.

The high prices have also hurt the hunters as well because now people think every arrowhead is worth a fortune so the fields are full of people trying to find them and sell them. I remember a time when I could spend most of the day and never see another hunter and now if you aren’t at a popular hunting spot at the crack of dawn then you will find a site that has been overrun by hunters there before you. I have one field I hunt that I used to hunt all day by myself and this spring I counted 17 people in there at one time. The high prices have turned a fun hobby into a money making bonanza for some people.

What impact has the internet had on the hobby of hunting and collecting prehistoric Indian artifacts?

The internet has been a double edged sword for the hobby. On one hand it has helped bring together a lot of people with similar interests from all across the United States and even the world. People who otherwise would have never met can now go to numerous web sites and converse about a hobby we all have a passion for, show our latest finds off for others to see, and to see artifacts from other parts of the country we probably never would have seen if not for the internet.

Arrowhead in Field

Just like this interview, if not for the internet we never would have met and I wouldn’t be doing this interview and sharing my interest with other people. On the other hand it has hurt the hobby with sites like eBay that flood the market with fakes. It has also given access to thieves who surf the web looking for collections so they can do their best to steal them. So I guess you can say it has been good and bad for the hobby, but in my mind more good then bad.

Tell us what makes a site prime for hunting prehistoric Indian artifacts.

Indian Fish Hook A lot of different things go into finding a good site for looking for artifacts. Most sites are located near a water source of some kind whether it be a river, creek, spring, or lake. They had to have fresh water for cooking, drinking, and bathing plus the abundance of fish and game that would be available.

It has been my experience over the years that the best sites are usually located at the confluence of a river and stream on a high ridge above the flood plain. You may find a few scattered artifacts in the bottoms where it floods but for the most part the best hunting is on the high ridges where the camps would be. Finding these good sites can be hit and miss. You may see a spot that looks like it would be a prime candidate for finding artifacts only to walk it and find nothing while another site not far away will yield tons of artifacts.

What are some misconceptions people have regarding the hobby of hunting and collecting prehistoric Indian artifacts the people who left them behind?

A lot of novices think of “Cowboys and Indians” when they see Indian artifacts. I have had a number of people ask me what tribe something came from and I have to explain that most of what we find is prehistoric and has no association with any of the known tribes. They don’t realize that these people were in this country 10,000 to 15,000 years ago and only think about the Indians that are depicted on TV and in movies that roamed the plains and were put into reservations.

Notched Arrowhead Others think that we are grave robbers and that we go out and dig up mounds and cemeteries to get our artifacts. They don’t realize that you can go out and walk a plowed field after a hard rain and pick artifacts up off the surface of the ground. Very little of my collection has been found by digging and even then I was only digging in middens and trash pits, not mounds or graves. Digging is too much like work and unless you get into a prime spot you can find a lot more by surface hunting.

What suggestions do you have for someone who would like to start hunting prehistoric Indian artifacts?

If a person is really serious about trying to find Indian artifacts it’s not that hard finding out info on where to get started. You can go to your local library and research your area for Indian sites, camps, and mounds. Any plowed fields in those areas should produce artifacts. You can also ask around and see if anyone in your area is already pursuing this hobby and see if they will give you a few pointers. Grooved Axe Indian One of the best ways I have found of finding new sites is by hopping in the car and driving out in the country looking for plowed fields and then stopping at the farm and asking the farmers if they ever found any artifacts in their fields. You would be surprised how many will say that they have.

Once you find a spot that has produced artifacts you can try to get permission from the farmer to hunt his fields and give it a try. That is one thing I can’t stress enough. Always obtain permission first before going on someones property. It’s not like it was 20 or 30 years ago when you could just walk out into a farmers field and they knew what you were doing and didn’t say much. Nowadays everyone is suspicious of just what you might be doing and some farmers will shoot first and ask questions later, so always get permission first. Arrowhead Frame Once you get permission look the area over and pick a spot on high ground near a water source and hit it first. Look for flint chips, pieces of bone, shell, or pottery and if you find these concentrated in one spot then you may have found a site and start hunting it a row at a time.

Try not to wander through the field willy-nilly because you will miss a lot of things. Try to hunt it a row at a time going back and forth about 5 to 10 feet apart on each pass. When you first start out you are going to want to check every piece of flint or rock you spy to see if it is anything. Once you get accustomed to what you are looking for you will know just what to pick up and what to leave alone.

Also, something that will really help you out and keep your back from getting sore from bending over all day is to get yourself a long stick, preferably an old broom handle, and put a nail in the end of it to flip out pieces you see. This also makes a good walking stick and will come in handy if a dog tries to get a little aggressive you can bop him on the nose and send him on his way.

I hope this interview helps peak an interest in this hobby in a few people and they learned a few things about collecting Indian artifacts. Maybe we’ll see each other in a field somewhere or meet at a show, but until then "Happy Hunting" everyone.

Thank you Steve for being so generous with your time.

With practice, Steve's tips for finding prehistoric Indian artifacts will be productive anywhere in the country.

All of the photos on this page are from Steve's collection. Make sure you click on the following link to see his entire collection.