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Wildhorse Canyon Supplied Obsidian For Use

Lesson

Native Americans in Utah
Paleo-Indians
Danger Cave Provided Clues to Ancient Utah Dwellers
Wildhorse Canyon Supplied Obsidian For Use
Anasazi
Cliffside Apartments & Artifacts Show Anasazi LIfe
the Fremont
Native American and European Relations
Goshute Indians
Paiute Indians
Utah's Paiute Indians During the Depression
Utah's First People: The Utes, Paiutes, and Goshutes
Ute Indians
The Ute Trek to South Dakota in 1906
The Walker War
Black Hawk War
Circleville Massacre, Incident in the Black Hawk War
Ute Severalty: Reform vs. Reality
Contemporary Ute Government Reflects Old Ways
Navajo Indians
Utah's First People: Navajos
Shoshoni Indians
Shoshone of Northern Utah
Bear River Massacre

Becky Bartholomew
History Blazer, June 1996

In Utah's Mineral Mountains, overlooking the west desert, is the entrance to Wildhorse Canyon. Here the terrain is rough, blanketed with pinyon and juniper forest underlain by sagebrush, cacti, and grasses. The canyon has no year-round stream.

Above its mouth, Wildhorse forks into a small side channel and the main canyon. Lying between the tines is a short ridge. On this ridge, mixed with tuff, perlite and basalt stone, are three obsidian flows with a total thickness of 65 feet.

Archaeological and scientific studies suggest this site has served as a major obsidian quarry and manufacturing station for this part of the Great Basin for not hundreds but thousands of years. Several observations led to this conclusion.

First, extensive piles of tailings lie along the foot of the ridge. The depth and content of tailings, including obsidian fragments and hand-hewn castoffs, indicate much more than a few generations of use.

Second, chipping or manufacturing camps have been found along the nearby Mineral foothills. In neither the tailings nor these camps have large chunks of obsidian been discovered, suggesting that the knapping (breaking and shaping of the stone) was performed at or near the quarry. The finished or nearly finished products were then transported elsewhere, perhaps to distant users.

Third, some 45 miles south of the quarry stand the remains of four Fremont Indian villages. Archaeological exploration of these villages has uncovered artifacts made of three types of obsidian: True obsidian, which is transparent with closely-spaced, horizontal black bands; pitchstone, actually a dense, opaque, black volcanic glass; brown obsidian, streaked with flowing bands of brown, red, and black. All three obsidians have been found at the Wildhorse Canyon quarry.

Fourth, no other quarry with all three types of obsidian has been discovered in Utah. The prehistoric Indians who frequented Hogup and Danger Caves 8,000 to 10,000 years ago did not use Wildhorse obsidian.

Fifth, the Fremont villages were active between A.D. 900 and 1300. While sizeable, their populations could not in so few centuries have performed the amount of quarrying nor produced the quantity of detritus seen at the Wildhorse site.

Thus Wildhorse Canyon was probably a source of raw obsidian and perhaps finished obsidian goods for a considerably larger area and longer time span than represented by the Fremont villages. A good guess is that it served as western Utah's major obsidian quarry for several thousand years.

Source: Wildhorse Canyon Obsidian Quarry Nomination Form, National Register of Historic Places, Preservation Office files, Utah Division of State History; Michael S. Berry, The Evans Site (Salt Lake City: Department of Anthropology, University of Utah Special Report, 1972).

 

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