Thursday, October 16, 2014

Searching for Stone: Foraging and Flintknapping in Northern CA

“Man your backpack is heavy. What’s in here, rocks?”- My brother

“Well, yeah!”- Me

The anthropology department needed more lithic material for teaching new students how stone tools were manufactured in the past, how to identify discernable use-wear patterning, and how to distinguish between artifacts and pseudo-facts, so I had to take a trip up north into the sticks.

After obtaining the complementary map and obsidian gathering permit from the US Forest Service I headed out into the National Forest for the night. The sunset was exquisite!

It had been nearly ten years since my last trip to this neck of the woods. My first stop as always was the rainbow/banded obsidian quarry. It is legal to acquire commercial permits for gathering stone here to sell to rock shops, at gem and mineral shows, etc. Thankfully the same rules apply to commercial operations as they do to me — if you want to dig, it’s all by hand! This slows the rate by which such economic endeavors can remove prime lithic materials…yet still it is amazing to see just how fast these crews can excavate with little more than picks and buckets!

The ground at the source is literally obsidian gravels, cobbles, and nodules barely separated by clay soils. It is truly a sight to behold.

As I have noted before, it is of the utmost importance that traditional technologies enthusiasts leave artifacts where they are! As an archaeologist I have the ethical obligation to explain to my readers that by removing a single artifact from an archaeological/cultural site one also takes away vital information that can be gained concerning subsistence, trade and exchange, temporal context, and much much more!
If you intend to gather lithic raw material for flintknapping, please only gather from designated quarries with a permit or road cuts where the stone can be found with 100% of its surface covered with its natural weathered rind — cortex. Also, be warned if you are an artifact hunter/looter, it is absolutely illegal to collect artifacts on state or federal land! And yes you can get jail time!

I gathered a decent supply of unmodified obsidian from the designated quarry and when I was ready, I headed up the old dirt road towards the mahogany obsidian source.

This later quarry looks much the same as the former, yet the obsidian that forms here is characterized by splashes of red-brown and black coloration which has led to its nickname…Mahogany.

I knapped out some nice quarry blanks and bifaces for later projects and hit the road.

The woods in this part of the state consist of mixed conifers and hardwoods. The pines and junipers usually have electric yellow-green moss covering many limbs. This lichen is one my brother nicknamed “fire moss” long ago on a deer hunting trip when we found out that it makes excellent fuel for getting a campfire going.

In and among the cliff sides and rock faces I found beautiful colonies of swallows and bees.

I also shot a squirrel with my .22 cal pistol which I promptly fried up with a slab of bacon fat for lunch. It would have been the envy of most any hobo alive…quite delicious!

A stop at a local shop for some supplies led to this picture of a dog who sat in the cab of a truck for 10 minutes wearing sunglasses!

When I finally returned home I sat down and began flintknapping.

More than fresh food, there’s material out there! Get creative, gather responsibly and ethically, and have an adventure while you’re at it!

Keep the old ways alive!

1 comment:

  1. wow! i always wondered where the swallows go when they leave here (san juan cap.). but, the obsidians are beautiful. i wish i could figure out where in NorCal you are... any hints?