By Deborah L. Huntley, Preservation Archaeologist
Jordan Taher’s encounter with the Mule Creek obsidian source has been a pilgrimage of sorts:
One of the main reasons I wanted to attend the Archaeology Southwest-University of Arizona Preservation Archaeology field school at Mule Creek was the nearby obsidian source. Now, I’m kind of a rock fanatic—though, if someone had asked me two years ago, “why are you interested in archaeology?” I would not have answered “rocks.” But rocks have grown on me since then, and I have come to appreciate the diverse and detailed information they impart about chronology, travel and trade routes, and technologies.
Within the southwestern region of New Mexico, Mule Creek was the source of a lot of the obsidian archaeologists have found at sites hundreds of miles away. Before I came to Mule Creek, I had envisioned a great wall of obsidian gleaming jet against a bright, clear New Mexico sky. The source must be a massive hulk of obsidian, I thought, to have supplied material that reached far west into Arizona, into northern New Mexico, and to the east, as well. It never occurred to me that the obsidian that had traveled such great distances would be in the form of weathered cobbles often much smaller than my fist.
Despite my misconceptions, the source impressed me. It displays the awesome power of nature upon geologic features. Obsidian nodules are found within perlite, a crumbly, soft, glittering mass of rock that is the product of weathered obsidian, which is itself a creation millions of years in the making. The source also conveys the incredible determination of past people to move great quantities of obsidian into far distant regions and to make the most out of what they had, even if that something was smaller than one’s fist.