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Photos by Frank Couch.
Robert Wolff, right, collects and makes arrowheads and crosses as a hobby. He has a passion for teaching history.
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Every chance he gets, Hoover resident Robert Wolff goes “head hunting.”
One trip involved four or five hours of work. Sometimes, it means walking three miles to a hunting spot or immersing himself in a hole six or eight feet deep.
“I’ve dug six feet down, and I was covered — completely covered,” he said. “Deer-hunting season, deer would just run right on by me or jump over the hole, and I’m looking around, thinking, ‘Oh, shoot, I’ll get shot next.’”
Wolff, a maintenance worker at Aldridge Gardens, has collected Indian artifacts since 2005. His hobby started when he was living in Mississippi.
“I asked my mother, ‘Where is my cousin finding all these arrowheads?’” he said. “She said, ‘Robert, they’re all over the place’... and she looks down and says, ‘Well, there’s one right by your foot in my driveway.’ And I said, ‘Son of a gun!’”
Since then, collecting arrowheads has become an obsession, Wolff said.
“Once it started, I just didn’t stop,” he said. “As a rule, I try to get into everything I do.”
Wolff uses details such as the type of rock and how it was made to determine where the arrowhead came from, when it was made and how it was used.
He said geologically, the Birmingham area consists mostly of slate, so rocks that are easier to carve, like quartz and jasper, had to be brought in from surrounding areas.
He said American Indians primarily used arrowheads made from quartz as ornaments, and they used thinner arrowheads for fishing.
Wolff makes arrowheads himself through a process called “knapping.” It takes about six weeks to heat-treat the rocks, but carving them can take mere minutes. He said heat-treating is a “new school” method, which means those arrowheads made through that process are roughly 200 to 600 years old.
Wolff said he believes the work put into artifacts makes them special.
“In my belief, whoever makes these, their dedication, their time, their spirit is in it,” he said. “If there’s a person sick in the hospital … I would give him something like this.”
Over the years, Wolff said he has acquired a sizable collection, including some specimens worth thousands of dollars. However, he has little interest in monetary value. He prefers to give away what he finds.
Earlier that day, a young girl admired a necklace he had made with one of his arrowheads. Although he estimates that the arrowhead, one of the first he found, is worth $50 to $300, he promptly took it off and gave it to her.
“It doesn’t matter,” Wolff said. “I do it because it comes from me; it comes from my heart, and I’d rather somebody appreciate it … I made a friend. Plus, she’s going to respect it and talk to all her friends. Maybe these kids, 10 years down the line, will make a difference for the world.”
He said he hopes the next generation will learn something from these little pieces of history.
“You know, it took this long for us to start caring,” Wolff said. “A lot of old people have collections, but nobody’s ever seen them because they just set them aside ... To hand this down, maybe [kids] will respect the Earth a little bit more and understand the Indians and how they were back then.”