Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hunting the Wild Chert in Central Arizona

I spent this past Thursday and Friday tramping along creeks and down the sides of highway road cuts outside Payson, in search of the sources of the many lovely varieties of chert people at one specific site used to make bucketloads of arrowheads way back in the 11th century. It was a mostly successful venture.

The Home Depot of A.D. 1000 Payson, located roughly between the two large alligator junipers (red arrows) near the top of the right side of this ridge. Click to supersize.

Four or five different cherts outcrop here and roll down the hill in the form of fist-sized nodules. Some of the people living in the small settlement below scooped them up, knocked thin flakes from them with round stone hammers, and turned those flakes into arrowheads by pressure-flaking tiny chips from their edges. The analytical problem I'm exploring is how the staggering number of artifacts--mostly waste flakes that are the byproduct of the manufacturing technique and broken arrowheads that got thrown away--can be used to infer the scale and organization of the little industry centered here at the base of an otherwise unremarkable hill, one among dozens in the immediate area, but one that just happened to be loaded with the kind of stone favored for arrowheads back in the day.

One of the larger nodules on the hill (above handle), with prehistoric flakes (below handle). Click to supersize!

I came home with a backpack full of samples and a roll of maps I have yet to mark up. The scenery was lovely, even if fall has been a bit late in coming this year.

Oak leaves against a brilliant blue sky.

Butterfly on thistle, with inquisitive bee making an appearance at lower left.

I leave you with this image from Star Valley. I do not know why the adult cabaret chose a giant steer as its mascot, except that there are a lot of ranches in the area. We tried not to think about that one too hard when we drove by.


David G said...

That place was a great steak house about 20 years ago. I would like to buy that steer and put it in my front yard but, I don't think my wife will let me.Also someone shot it with an arrow last year. Looks funny.
David G

Boltgirl said...

Ah yes, I looked at the large version of the photo (click to embiggen) and there is indeed an arrow sticking out of the poor bovine's side. Got him dead center.

MightyCamper John said...

I am fascinated by your chert find. I have spent many a day hiking around the Payson area exploring the mines and other historical sites. The link between people and the minerals and rocks we use has long been of interest. Is there anywhere you would recommend I could go to find out more about this area you explored near Payson and its archeology and deposits. Additionally, I am interested in collecting some samples for my research into knapping arrowheads and other stone tools. I have searched for about six hours on the web these past few days and have come up empty handed. Any help would be very, well, helpful!


Boltgirl said...

If you're based near Payson, try the Rim Chapter of the AZ Archaeological Society, and if you can make it to Tucson or Tempe hit the university libraries, where you should be able to access CRM reports. The Arizona State Museum library (UA campus, Tucson) would be the best resource.

And if just hiking around Payson, hop into Thompson Draw near Tonto Village (east of Payson maybe 7 miles? turn north on a signed road and park where the road forks at the south end of the village) and you'll find all the chert you want.

John said...

Excellent! Thanks very much for this info. I will go after both the research as well as the good old footwork approaches. Could this be a possible source for use in the Shoofly Village? I'm guessing that's what put you in the area? Sounds relatively near enough.

Thanks again

Boltgirl said...

Public service message from the professional archaeologist: you can take up to 40 lbs of rock off the national forest per calendar year without a permit, I think, although you will want to check with the ranger station outside Payson to make sure. Also, if you stumble upon an archaeological site, please enjoy the view but don't trample the artifacts or stuff anything into your pockets.

John said...

Definitely. I'll let you know when I find something good along the way!

hvy_drop said...


Wondering if you could direct me to a place to find some dark colored chert in my area. Right now I'm in Sierra Vista, but can easily get to the Grahams. Do know of any locations near me where I can get a handful of chert, I am teaching some local boy scouts how to use flint and steel to start fires as well as doing a little flint knapping. Thanks.


Boltgirl said...

I'm not well-versed in SE AZ sources, mainly because my company hasn't done a whole lot of work in the Sierra Vista area beyond surveys. The only source of near-black chert I could point you to is a site colloquially known as Buff's quarry, near Mission and Cardinal in south Tucson. It's pretty low-quality stuff, though, and has been plundered so much over the past couple thousand years that there aren't many big nodules left. There are some beautiful orange/red/purple cherts in the vicinity of Patagonia... let me see if I can find some more specific directions than that.

Matthew Sawyer said...

any updates I have more specific location for Payson. Your directions not very descriptiveis and your pictures have no GPS coordinates.


Matthew Sawyer said...

sorry I meant do you have a better location description or directions