Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tall Tales from the End of the Trail 1

The American Guide Series was a collection of books published by the Federal Writer's Project during the late 1930's and early 1940's. Among the publications was Oregon: End of the Trail, a description of the state along with a collection of auto tours. Although the book offers a fascinating snapshot of a Depression-era Oregon, it also proved to be the source of a couple of obsidian-related whoppers. The book appears to be well-researched but it's clear that the writers played it pretty loose on occasion with the facts.

The first of these concerned Rock Mesa, a 2000 year-old obsidian flow located at the southern base of the South Sister. While the flow is quite spectacular, the quality of the obsidian is pretty poor and the source received little or no attention as a prehistoric toolstone resource. The Writer's Project book, however, spins a very different tale in Tour 4B:

The authors paint a fascinating picture of territoriality and quarry control and ultra long-distance trade but unfortunately their interpretation has absolutely no basis in fact. Subsequent trace element provenance studies of thousands of artifacts from western and central Oregon indicate that Rock Mesa was seldom, if ever, used as a source of obsidian. Great story though!

See the next entry for tale #2, a somewhat more plausible but perhaps even taller tale.

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