Mark Washburn

NC man planting shrub unearths cache of prehistoric weapons

His wife had been reminding him for quite some time that she wanted three spirea bushes moved from the front yard to the back.

“I was getting nagged,” says Leonard Shelor, so on Feb. 22, 2014, he decided to do his duty.

Bush No. 1 was in its appointed spot, and bush No. 2 was just snuggling in the red clay when the couple noticed a sharp point sticking out of the excavated dirt.

“If I didn’t know better,” said Karen Shelor, “I’d think this was an arrowhead.”

It was bigger than an arrowhead, about 3 three inches long, but sharp and chipped. They looked closer and found more. And more. Out of the hole that afternoon came 65 carved points.

In what could only be described as a freak discovery with the longest of odds, the Shelors had unearthed a cache of prehistoric blades dating back thousands of years.

Rare? Rare like hitting the lottery, says Randy Daniel, chair of the anthropology department at East Carolina University. Daniel walked the Uwharrie Mountains looking for ancient quarries as part of his dissertation research. Only about a dozen such finds have been documented in the state, he says.

Researchers at ECU concluded that the points were hidden in the ground about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago by nomadic hunter-gatherers.

Morrow Mountain in the Uwharries, about 5 miles away from the Shelors’ property, was the likely source of the aphyric rhyolite rock, which has volcanic origins. In the Stone Age, this particular rock would have represented the best material for weaponry.

It was sharp, could be chipped by hand and was rare. It could kill and butcher game. It was, in short, an essential tool for human survival.

But why?

So what was it doing in the Shelors’ yard?

Without a time machine, that question will never be answered. Daniel says it was not unusual for the primitive hunters to hide blades far from the quarries so they would have a reliable supply, sort of like an ancient armory.

This cache might have been hidden so the nomads wouldn’t have to soon venture across the nearby Yadkin River and climb the mountains for more.

“We have no idea why they didn’t go back and get these points,” says Lori Kay Gross, who conducted an archaeological dig in the Shelors’ yard as research for her master’s degree.

Her analysis of the points concluded that they all came from the same source, were quarried at the same time and, judging by the workmanship, were shaped by a single craftsman.

In all, 81 points were taken from the ground by the Shelors and the ECU team.

Emerging from the past

There’s no evidence the Shelors’ land, beside Lake Badin, was ever anything more than hunting grounds before their house was built in 2002 as part of the Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point about an hour east of Charlotte.

He believes the prehistoric nomads may have had a camp there, and a small earthen dam nearby that creates a pond may have been built by native peoples in historic times.

Shelor, a retired DuPont executive who moved from Charlotte to the gated golf community in Montgomery County, says he’ll probably donate the stones to a museum “unless some collector offers me millions of dollars.”

So, a museum it will probably be.

Known only to a small circle of researchers and neighbors until now, details of the “Shelor Cache,” as it is known, will be shared Wednesday by Gross and Daniel at the Old North State Club.

Both are glad it was the Shelors who found the stones. People occasionally stumble across such historic finds without realizing their significance. Because the Shelors called in experts, the discovery was closely documented.

“I think it was meant to be found, and I’m glad they found it, because they gave it to us,” says Gross.

“He just happened to stick a shovel in that exact spot. Two feet any other direction, it’d still be there.”

Want to know more?

Lori Kay Gross and Randy Daniel of East Carolina University will detail their findings on the ancient Shelor Cache at the Old North State Club at 7 p.m. Wednesday. It is free, but reservations must be made at 336-461-4447.