(June 13, 2018)—On June 5, experimental archaeologist Allen Denoyer, fellow field school student Shiloh, and I spent the day in the Gila National Forest looking for obsidian in order to gain a better understanding of the process involved in flintknapping. This is an important aspect of our research at the Gila Farm Site excavation, as we are finding flaked stone tools, including projectile points. By experiencing firsthand the process that people went through to make these valuable tools, we as archaeologists will have better insights on what we should be looking for throughout our excavation units, and also be aware of the cultural significance of obsidian that may be vital in further research.
We started our day with a scenic drive through the landscape until we reached an area where Allen knew there was obsidian by the ton. The area where we focused our search had experienced volcanic disturbance many years ago that had caused the hillside to erode, revealing any obsidian and other rocks that were hidden within the lower layers. We were also near a dry river bed that at one point, when the river was flowing, had carried down the sediments we were looking for. Although this area was known to have an abundance of obsidian, we needed a relatively large piece that could be flaked, which was not easy to find. We mostly found tiny pieces or pieces that were already flaked.
It is important to note that whenever you are out hiking or possibly doing the same activity as ours, if you come across a stone that you believe has been flaked (struck or altered with purpose to make a stone tool) or an actual projectile point, you should not take it with you. If you are finding these items, this could potentially mean that you on or near an archaeological site. Taking these items would disturb the site and potentially strip away information vital to understanding past human activities on the landscape. As archaeologists we made sure to only take obsidian that was undisturbed and showed no signs of human alteration.
After one or two hours of searching and hiking I had only found pieces of obsidian about 3 cm in diameter. It was possible to practice flaking on these small stones. I still wanted to try to find a larger piece, as Allen said this was the place where we could potentially find a piece of obsidian as big as a fist! (Well, he meant more like half of a fist.) With this in mind, I was determined to find the largest piece obsidian possible. After looking and looking, I struck gold. I finally found a piece of obsidian with no signs of human alterations that was the size of a golf ball! It was perfect! Shiloh and Allen were amazed, but also slightly jealous as they did not have the same luck. Right after we found all our obsidian, we were able to practice flintknapping and make some of our own projectile points.