I first visited the Owyhee area quarry sites with a colleague, H .Emry, Curator of Paleontology of the museum in 2008. He had collected fossils in the area for well over 30 years. I immediately noticed biface knives in the walls of the quarries each time I visited the site, plus ground stone artifacts in the stream bed beneath the quarries. The possibility of prehistoric habitation encouraged my research for the last several years on the project. The general location of the site is the Southeast corner and border of Idaho and Malheur Co., Oregon known as the Owyhee uplands. The area was formerly settled by immigrants to Oregon around 1851; nowadays many ranchers own large tracts of the land. The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) manages 65% of the land in this county.
Deep volcanic deposits, fault blocks, basalt, rhyolite, sedimentary deposits and surface lava define he geology of the area. Mountain ranges to the North and South were formed approximately 12 million years ago. The Uplands of the Owyhees are part of the Columbia drainage, however, vegetation and animals resemble Northern Great basin habitat. This area was likely inhabited for more than 13,000+ years.
The nomadic Shoshone Paiute Native American tribes claim the land as their ancestral home (now Duck Valley Reservation of 300,000 acres). About 500 archaeological sites are known including excavations of important cave sites dating to the Holocene. Other excavations include a prehistoric Great Basin site with a large pit house concentration and a middle Archaic site. Since there is little soil, most of the archaeological record lies on the surface of the land. This includes lithic scatters, quarries, petroglyphs, rock outcrops, ground stone tools and some pottery. In the 1970s a Clovis point was surface collected in the south central portion of the county.
The quarries of the research area appear to be large tool-making sites which were worked in several stages. Most of the sites are on north trending fault lines. Volcanic faults in this area allowed hydrothermal fluids to move through and silicify the bedrock, producing the abundant material (jaspers) for tool making (map- D.Valentine). A typical tool making site consists of 3 stages: quarrying the material; shaping it into general bifacial forms (bifacial blanks, cores or cache blades) that could be transported; and refining and putting finishing touches to the blades/tools. Technological studies of biface manufacturing based on modern experiments (Ahler 1986; Callahan 1979) reveal that one of the most crucial factors in biface production is maintaining the width of the tool while reducing thickness. The thinner the biface, the more complete. Many of the biface tools found here are wide and thick. However, some long cylindrical cores are found. It was suggested these long cores could have been used to slice salmon or scraping fish scales. Quarry biface tools, a/k/a quarry cache blades, preforms or roughs, are made by a direct percussion method (hitting a core with a hammer of some type-antler, bone, hammerstone). From all appearances, the tools at the sites have been manufactured at this primary tool site so they could be transported. There is little or no evidence of ground edges or polishing and the blades were likely used as knives and not spearheads; the largest biface is found in the quarry at a depth of 8-10’.
Most of the geological material of the tools consists of Jasper (picture rock), a compact opaque cryptocrystalline variety of quartz. Also seen are banded jaspers, dull, glossy, of all colors; (no obsidian is seen at this quarry though it is located nearby). The ground stone tools found at the quarry as hammerstones and also in the lower tributary of the creek bed are mostly granite. A small tang-style knife or scraper recently located in the quarry wall is the first type found here and could have been used as a graver. Analysis of the artifacts was done by NW Labs; however, aside from mineral elements, no dating of jaspers/ccs material is available by xrf (x-ray fluorescence) methods.