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Points Taken

Perry Turpin finds history you can hold in your hand.


An avid researcher and collector since he wrapped up his career as a butcher in 1993, Turpin has accumulated more than 800 "points" — everything from stone axes, spear tips, and knives, to tanning and drilling tools, scrapers, and pipes. Some of his other prized pieces include beads, bowls and marbles over 200 years old.

The 7-mile-long Elk Island is only about four miles from Turpin's home, nestled at the lower end of western Goochland County between the James and Little rivers, just off Route 6. This is Turpin's prime area for point searching because many artifacts have washed up from heavy rains and past pipeline plowing done upstream on the James.

Around 10 a.m., country-boy Turpin takes off in boots, jeans, suspenders, straw hat, and a leather jacket, which has a plastic shopping bag stuffed in its pocket for collecting the day's finds. A gigantic bloodstone arrowhead dangles around Turpin's neck for good luck.

Besides his keen eye and knowledge of Native-American goods, the only other tool Turpin uses is a handcrafted walking stick. Having upgraded from a broken broom handle, the self-made stick serves the same purpose of scratching around and flipping over anything that looks "suspicious" without Turpin having to bend over to get a closer view of unworthy leads.

"I've walked many miles with this stick," he says. "It gets me there and brings me back."

The ever-polite Turpin visits friend and fellow point hunter "Old Man" Biskup to get permission to search the area. Even though Biskup doesn't technically own the site, he lives on a hill just above the island and adjacent railroad, and likes to keep a close watch on all comings and goings.

The fact that some relics are found broken is a matter that Turpin takes quite personally.

"It hurt me that one corner was gone," he sighs in remembrance of one particular arrowhead.

Yet Turpin has recovered many near-perfect points, meaning they are largely intact. His collection of exquisite finds includes some dating back beyond the tools and weaponry of Pocahontas and her long-ago powerful Powhatan people. He has what he calls a "dandy" willow-leaf-shaped point (estimated to be 8,000-9,000 years old); three different kinds of Yadkin points (origin circa 400 AD - 800 AD); a few 6,500-year-old Lecroy points (origin 7,000 BC - 5,500 BC); as well as his one Clovis point (origin 12,000 BC - 8,000 BC).

"I wish I could see the man that made those [Clovis points]. I bet he was a crude and hard man," Turpin says respectfully.

He considers his single Clovis priceless because of its extreme rarity and its archaic age. "I spent a lot of happy hours looking for that. I remember thinking, 'God, don't let it be broken,' but so many times they are," Turpin says.

Turpin's collection of Native-American artifacts is so extensive that even the Smithsonian has visited him on two separate occasions to view and photograph his many finds, especially his cherished Clovis.

Not all his points are his own finds, though. Sometimes Turpin buys artifacts from fellow collectors, such as the entire "rough" collection he got from a local Cartersville woman just to obtain her single drill relic — a purchase made with the understanding that Turpin would never sell any of the pieces. Since some collectors are willing to pay thousands for a good point, that means Turpin could be giving up some money.

"I don't think it would be right to sell them. I'll give them away," he says. "Plus, the spirit could get on you!"

Today is a good day for an excursion. The bright sun has melted the morning frost and baked the top layer of earth. But just below the surface, the soil is squishy and thick mud pulls like suction cups with each boot step. According to Turpin, the wetter the better.

Leaves and other natural debris, like dried remnants of soybean and corn, may fool the average point hunter, but not Turpin.

"If I see anything that has a white cast, I go and look at it," he explains, carefully inspecting each bare section of ground. "Anybody can find a white point … [but] when it comes to a color point, you've got to know what you're looking for."

Turpin's relic radar goes off when he spots anything worked by man, perhaps something that looks chiseled on its edges.

"It's got to have some shape," he says, citing tomahawks as a prime example. "A lot of points don't have shoulders on top … like the hammer stone, used to chip other rocks."

Many flakes of artifacts litter the island, but Turpin remains focused on the bigger finds. He stops abruptly and uses his trusty stick to turn over a rock. Turpin bends over and picks up what is only half of a point. He tosses it back to the ground like trash.

"If they had flags out here marking them, that'd be nice, wouldn't it?" he asks, grinning. "But you've got to have patience, you better believe it. You've got to find 20 to 25 before you find a good one … [and] if I find one, it's worth my time."

After about 10 minutes, Turpin finds an intact scraper. Then he makes what he calls a "surface find" — where two or more points are buried together, but only the edge of one of them can be seen — of an unrefined slate axe.

"If I can see one-third of a point, I have a [good] idea that's what it is," Turpin says. "I can spot it."

By about 1 p.m., Turpin's grocery bag has grown heavy with a variety of finds, so he calls his hunting expedition to an end and heads home to Cumberland County, snacking on homemade caramel candy all the way.

Some of Turpin's best goods are displayed in a coffee table and in special cases inside the Turpin home. Others are on plaques proudly hanging in his backyard workshop.

"He must be part Indian," his wife, Elizabeth, says of his successful eye. "He thinks he's got them all."

"The reason I'm a poor hunter is because my eyes are always on the ground, so things get away from me," Turpin says. "I used to be a good hunter. But I'm not looking for game anymore." S

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