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2 April 2006
Ancient mounds give glimpse into Indian mining operations

Last month, the Department of the Interior announced the designation of several National Historic Landmarks. Among them is the Silver Mound Archaeological District in Jackson, Wisconsin (USA). Contrary to its name, Silver Mound isn't a mound and there is no silver at the site. The 'mound' is a natural sandstone knob that contains veins of a kind of quartzite, sometimes called sugar quartz because of its grainy, glistening appearance. It was an important source of raw material for stone tools for more than 12,000 years. Quartzite is more difficult to work with than flint, but its cutting edges stand up better to heavy use.
     American Indians mined the quartzite, leaving behind hundreds of pits, the largest of which are 30 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep. Spear points made from Silver Moundís quartzite have been found from North Dakota to Ohio and from Ontario to Missouri. The name Silver Mound was given to the site by early Europeans who assumed the American Indians mined valuable ores such as silver.
     Ohio has its own spectacular prehistoric stone quarry. Flint Ridge flint, Ohioís official gemstone, is a beautiful rainbow-colored mineral found along a nearly 8-mile stretch of hilltops in Licking and Muskingum counties. It has been called the 'Great Indian Quarry of Ohio,' and its quarries vary in size, with the largest measuring 80 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep. Some early Europeans who encountered these quarries also assumed they were ancient gold or silver mines. Caleb Atwater, writing in 1820, referred to a "gentleman" who "nearly ruined himself, by digging in and about these works, in quest of the precious metals; but he found nothing very precious." Ohioís American Indians would have disagreed.
     High-quality flint was a vital resource, and material as fine and colorful as Flint Ridge flint was much sought after. Artifacts made from Flint Ridge flint have been found from Missouri to the Atlantic coast and from Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico. For information about Silver Mound, go to www.uwlax.edu/mvac/specific sites/silvermound.htm. Much of Flint Ridge is now a state memorial run by the Ohio Historical Society. For more on Flint Ridge, go to www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry .php?rec=2217.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch (28 March 2006)

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