The Mast-Head: Point on the Shore

It was an astonishingly beautiful thing

A week ago Sunday at Accabonac Harbor for a picnic, I announced to a friend that I was going to set off to search the shoreline for Native American stone tools. I had gotten excited about the prospect looking at images from the Montauk Indian Museum of arrowheads and other things picked up on the beach here and there. “I’ll be back shortly,” I said.

Seven minutes later, by my friend’s estimation, I was back, a white-quartz triangular tool about the size of a half-dollar in hand. I was pleased, but puzzled. It was an astonishingly beautiful thing, but was it legal for me to have picked it up?

New York law prohibits the collection of archaeological artifacts from state land without a permit. Where I was, inside Accabonac Harbor with my feet in the water, is East Hampton Town Trustee property, but as far as I can tell from a cursory look, trustee regulations and town law have nothing to say on the matter. If the trustees want to claim the stone point for their collection or want me to put it back where I found it, I will comply.

Meanwhile, I have the tool in my office, where I pick it up from time to time and wonder about its intended use. Two of its three corners are gone, though I can see from the fine and symmetrical edges that it was crafted with exceptional care. Holding it, I think about the person who made it and who might have used it and then discarded or lost it while hunting along the shore.

For thousands of years, native people lived and thrived and dreamed and died here, leaving behind indelible, if often overlooked, signs of their presence like the probable spear point now on my desk. To think that someone I will never know chipped this perfect thing out of a featureless stone and held it in hand so long ago simply fills me with awe.