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Archaeology: More Info

Munsungun Chert

Several different types of rocks were used by Paleo-Indians for “knapping,” a process of chipping away material to create sharp-edged stone tools. The most sought after rocks were ones that were of uniform grain, strong, flaked well when struck, and produced a sharp, durable edge. Due to the varying geography of North America, high quality raw materials such as chert and rhyolite are found in limited supplies and quarries were considered extremely valuable. While the choice of material for stone tools was often determined by what was locally available, the Paleo-Indians found these rocks so precious that there is evidence of stone trade between groups as far apart as the Ohio River Valley and New England.

Paleo-Indians experimented with many varieties of raw materials, but relied heavily on superior quality stones like chert for their tool needs. Munsungun chert is a fine-grained stone found in the Munsungun region of Maine, from a quarry site near Norway Bluff. It has all the properties required to generate excellent stone tools, making it a valuable commodity. The Paleo-Indians prized its high silica composition, hardness, luster, deep reddish color, and the stone’s tendency to produce predictable fractures when struck. The finished tools were durable, retained a sharp cutting edge for long periods of time, and were visually appealing.

Due to varying colors and compositions, chert from different locations have different qualities and unique names. Rocks from the Hudson and Champlain Valleys of New York were widely used in tool making throughout New England and a variety of specimens have been found in Paleo-Indian “knapping” sites across the region. New York Onondaga flint, maroon Vermont jasper and Kalkberg flint are all types of different types of chert. While flint is another name for gray to black colored opaque chert, and jasper is a reddish, glossy chert, they share the same qualities prized by craftsmen.

While chert was the most sought after raw material, its scarcity in New England forced tool makers to use other types of rocks. Local varieties of rhyolite provided alternative sources for raw materials. Mt. Jasper rhyolite from Berlin, New Hampshire, and Kineo rhyolite from the Kineo-Traveller Mountain region of Maine were two such substitutes. Rhyolite is a fine-grained, gray rock available in greenish blue varieties. It contains quartz and feldspar, and it has a glassy texture and flakes well, producing a sharp, durable edge.

Sources Used:

“Archaeology Unit, Memorial Univeristy of Newfoundland” (http://www.mun.ca/archaeology/notes2.HTM) (1/25/05).

Brockman, Mark E. Abstract taken from “Prehistoric Lithic Sources of New England” Available on author’s website (http://userpages.prexar.com/mbrockmann/geology/book.htm) (1/25/05).

Funk, Robert E. Recent Contributions to Hudson Valley Prehistory. The University of the State of New York. Albany, 1976.

“The Maine Geologist” Geological Society of Maine Newsletter, 1999, v. 25, no. 1, p. 7 Accessed Online at: (http://www.gsmmaine.org/newsletters/gsm991.pdf) (1/25/05).

“Missing Oceans and Colliding Continents: A Field Trip Guide to the Appalachian Mountains” (http://www.geosc.psu.edu/~dbr/Quebec/Stops%2013-21.html) (1/25/05).

“Obsidian.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopædia Britannica Online 25 Jan. 2005 (http://www.search.eb.com.prxy5.ursus.maine.edu/eb/article?tocId=9056670).

“On the Shore of a Pleistocene Lake” The Center for the Study of First the Americans. (http://www.centerfirstamericans.com/mt.html?a=29) (1/25/05).

“Paleoindian Life in the Chesapeake Region 18,000 to 19,000 Years Ago” National Park Service. (http://www.nps.gov/chal/sp/jcbchp2.pdf) (1/25/05).

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