|18 March 2004
Prehistoric jasper mine unearthed in Virginia
In the course of an archaeological assessment prior to the widening of Route 3, east of Culpeper (Virginia, USA), researchers discovered a significant find. A large cache of jasper shards was unearthed at the location and further exploration led to the discovery of a jasper mine, 12-feet below ground level, that was in use by Native Americans about 11,000 years ago.
Spencer DeJarnette, a long-time Virginia Department of Transportation employee and Madison County resident, at a recent membership meeting of the Madison County Historical Society presented examples of jasper shards from the Route 3 site. The jasper shards found there were in an area where there was not supposed to be any, according to modern geological data. Jasper, commonly called flint, can be flaked easily and used to fashion tools, spear points, arrowheads and hatchet and ax heads.
At first, the assumption was that the jasper had been transported to the site by nomadic tribes and worked there. As the dig progresses, however, a different scenario emerged. At the 13-foot level, a large quantity of jasper shards was discovered, but the mystery remained. "Why were large quantities of jasper brought here? We had all the pieces, but why?" wondered Eric Voigt, senior archaeologist of the Louis Berger Group, which conducted the dig. On the very day dump trucks were scheduled to arrive and fill the pit, the key to the mystery emerged. "We discovered a crack that led to a fault. It was literally right below our feet." This discovery led the scientists to conclude that a rich vein of jasper existed and that ancient Native Americans had mined this vein on a commercial basis.
Because it was used for a relatively short period of time and charcoal from campfires used by the ancient miners, scientists were able to pinpoint its age with some accuracy. Some of the charcoal was from spruce trees, indicating it dated back to the late Ice Age. Samples were sent to a lab in Florida and it was established that the mine was in use 11,000 to 11,500 years ago by Paleo Indians, DeJarnete said.
The dig uncovered over 2,000 pounds of artifacts – a quarter of million items — including some fist-sized tools used to break off the material in the mine. The chemical fingerprint of the Brook Run jasper can be used to track the movements of the raw materials from the mine and the Native Americans who used it for spear points and campsite tools. After the archaeologists completed their study, the mine was refilled with man-made sand and protected with a cover of fabric and earth. The road project was reengineered to skirt the site.
Source: Media General, Madison News (11 March 2004)
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