Archaeologist Eric Poplin peered into a box belonging to Genevieve Geer and selected a shard of pottery the size of a small oyster.
He stuck the piece under a hand-held magnifying glass while his eyes searched it as if he were reading words on a page.
Within seconds, he was able to tell Geer that the designs in the clay had been made in about 4,000 B.C. Whoever made them used a piece of wood.
Geer happened to scoop up that piece -- and hundreds of other bits of clay and arrow heads _ while walking her dog on Pine Island. She brought a small sample of them to the "What the Heck Is This?" event hosted by the Hilton Head Archaeological Society at the Coastal Discovery Museum on Saturday.
Geer also learned that one of her many arrow heads was likely crafted about 8,000 years ago. Poplin was able to point to several different kinds and tell her whether they were use for weapons, chiseling or boring holes into leather.
Poplin and another archaeologist, Jonathan Leader, have volunteered their expertise since the event began three years ago. It works similarly to "Antiques Roadshow" in that anyone can bring in for examination something they think might be an artifact.
Sometimes, "artifacts" turn out to be a rock that happened to take on a curious shape from ocean erosion. Other times, Poplin and Leader see rarer pieces such as rifles, statues or tools, dating back to the Civil or Revolutionary wars.
The first person at the event Saturday, Poplin said, brought a naval sword made in 1862.
Buddy Thompson brought it an assortment of items including a tiny rusted thimble from Jasper County, the head of a tomahawk and a mangled piece of flint that Leader identified as part of a firing mechanism on a flintlock rifle. He said it dated to the 1600s in the time of "the original Charlestown."
George Stubbs, president of the Hilton Head chapter of the Archaeological Society of South Carolina, said they started the event to get more people involved with archaeology. Each year, the group sees artifacts from about 50 people.
"Our audience is the everyday person," he said.
Follow Anne Chistnovich on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP