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Where Prehistory Becomes Human

Where Prehistory Becomes Human, Hardscrabble Dacite Outcrop near Strawberry, Arizona —

We were surveying an area in the Tonto forest for archaeology sites. We were near the Hardscrabble dacite outcrop. The prehistoric people who once traversed this region would travel to this rock outcrop, knock off a bunch of cobbles, and cart them away as materials to make their projectile points, blades, scrappers, drills, and other tools.

We were surveying on a ridge near this outcrop and the ground surface was full of lithic scatters, we were walking on a virtual lithic landscape — a prehistoric trash dump of discarded rock pieces, chunks, and cobbles broken up and left behind by Native Americans of hundreds of years past.

Projectile point made from dacite

Projectile point made from dacite

Nearly everywhere we looked flaked stone and artifacts littered the earth. We were literally walking on a surface of prehistory. But most of these artifacts were unrefined — they were mostley just chunks and flakes of dacite that were knocked off of larger pieces. There were very few habitation sites, little indication of longer term occupation. This area was a thoroughfare between the dacite rock outcrop and wherever else the native people hung out, hunted, mashed up nuts and berries, dug roots, danced, lived.

From the archaeological evidence, it seemed as if they would take off big blocks of dacite stone from the outcrop and refine these chunks further as they walked away. We were looking upon an ancient field of garbage.

One archaeologist on the crew began speaking of how the native people would knock off cobbles of dacite from the nearby outcrop and reduce these large chunks to smaller pieces called preforms — which could be transported with ease and later shaped into a variety tools. The idea matched perfectly the time honed mantra of the the traveler:

The smaller and lighter your load, the easier it is to carry.

I overheard this conversation and bursted out laughing. “What jerk wants to carry around a bag full of rocks!?!” I roared.

Dacite core -- pieces were taken off of this chunk for the purpose of making into tools

Dacite core -- pieces were taken off of this chunk for the purpose of making into tools

I had just experience that little glimmer of a flash into dreamy prehistory that strikes the science minded archaeologist every once in a while. It was a glimmer of a flash in which the rocks under my feet were not just flaked stone, cores, and bifacial fragments, but became the litter of a person not that much different than myself — people who got tired of carrying around big chunks of rock and attempted to make their load as small and light as possible. It was a glimmer of a flash where the study of prehistory — for a moment — became human.

I don’t want to travel with a bag full of rocks . . .

What made sense in the past are often makes sense in the present. Nobody at any time, ever, wants to carry around a bag full of rocks.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Arizona, USA

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 80 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3170 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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