(June 23, 2022)—During my time spent learning and practicing experimental archaeology, I went to Mule Creek to search for obsidian. People have obtained obsidian for making tools from this local source for millennia.
Having just learned how to use an atlatl—an ancient hunting weapon that uses stone dart points—I was very excited to collect some obsidian and start making my own dart points. I was in for a lot more than I expected, though: I ended up finding a giant 2.55-pound nodule of obsidian.
To put this thrilling discovery into perspective, I should note that the largest nodule of obsidian previously found at Mule Creek by this field school weighed 1.01 pounds. Nodules of these sizes are very rare, and most tools created from Mule Creek obsidian are limited to the smaller, more common sizes. The average weight of an obsidian nodule coming out of Mule Creek, in general, is about 0.04 pounds. The average weight of obsidian nodules that we will actually knap is about 0.13 pounds.
Despite its smaller nodule sizes, Mule Creek obsidian has long been traded throughout the New Mexico and southern Arizona area. There are many reasons for this, one being the sheer size of the Mule Creek obsidian source itself. Mule Creek deposits are found within an area of just over 100 square miles centered on the modern-day community of Mule Creek.
The other major reason for the prolific distribution of Mule Creek obsidian is its association with Salado ceramics. Mule Creek obsidian was often traded along with this very popular and meaningful form of decorated pottery, which was tied to an ideology that swept across the Southwest in the early 1300s. Mule Creek obsidian had an imprint far greater than might be expected for such small pieces of stone.