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Bill Allen sat behind a table loaded with arrowheads, spear points and the remnants of a large gray pot reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle. A steady line of people passed by, some carrying artifacts of their own, asking questions of Allen about what his objects were and where they had been found.
“I think I done covered just about all of Levy, Dixie and Gilchrist counties over the years,” he said about his past forays into the woods and along freshly plowed fields in search of ancient pottery and stone tools.
His clay pot, the first of several he’s found, was decorated with groupings of curved lines stamped onto the surface of the vessel when the clay was still wet about 1,000 years ago.
“I found it about 20 years ago in Dixie County,” he said. “I was pretty excited.”
Allen said his collection of thousands of Native American artifacts, all dug or plucked from the ground with his own hands, took about 40 years to assemble. Some stay packed away in boxes and others grace the shelves of a large wall-length display case in his Chiefland home.
“Today is the first time I ever exhibited,” he said.
About 300 people showed up to the Second Annual Chiefland Native American Artifact and Fossil show Saturday at the Tommy Usher Pineland Center to see Allen and about a dozen other collectors display their finds.
The Kolomoki Society, an organization made up of amateur collectors from the Southeastern United Sates, organized the event, which also included an auction and lectures by archaeologist Barbara Purdy and paleontologist Dr. Richard Hulbert.
“I know a lot of collectors, just private collectors, who don’t get displayed,” said Andrew Davis, vice president of the Kolomoki Society. “Almost everyone in Levy County has an arrowhead, lots of those people don’t know much about it.”
Davis, who now lives in Gainesville, said he was born and raised in Chiefland and hopes the event is able to educate the public about part of Levy County’s history.
“It’s also a great opportunity to see stuff that would never have been seen.”
Dr. Richard Hulbert, manager for the University of Florida’s collection of vertebrate paleontology, said, before his presentation on fossil sites in Florida, that fossil and artifact shows are generally a good thing.
“There are mixed feelings, but as long as the fossils and artifacts are collected legally, we have no concerns.”
He said there’s a long history of good communication between professional paleontologists and amateur collectors.
“They’ve made many of the important discoveries,” he said.
For example, Hulbert described the fossil bones of a species of ancient bear, bigger than a modern-day grizzly, found by a husband and wife in the Rainbow River. Prior to that discovery, he said, the animal was not known to inhabit Florida.
Hulbert is also in charge of the state’s fossil permitting program. A permit to collect fossils can be purchased for $5 a year. Under the program, fossil finds have to be reported, he said, and the state has about six weeks to make a decision on whether or not it wants to make a claim.
“Because of the program, people have voluntarily given us stuff because they know it’s important.”
But it’s not just knowledge of fossils that amateur collectors have contributed toward, according to Davis. He said members of the Kolomaki Society, the oldest organization of its type in the Southeast, have played a big part in the classification of many of the artifacts found in Florida.
“It was the beginning of point typology,” Davis said, explaining that early members of the society reordered the names of various groups of arrowheads and spear points by locations where they were found, rather than by the names of people who had found them.
“Arredondos, Newnans, Putnams, Alachuas and Levys, those names are in the Florida Museum of Natural History. They were not named by archaeologists.”