Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tall Tales from the End Of the Trail 2
The second story from Oregon: End of the Trail comes from page 470 as part of another auto tour. For many years, there was a persistent rumor that obsidian from Glass Buttes made its way to the Hopewell mounds of Ohio, a truly spectacular example of long-distance trade in the North America.
In the section above, the writers spin an excellent yarn and can be commended for their imagination if not their attention to the facts. There's no doubt that Glass Buttes in one of the premier sources of natural glass in the United State, if not the world - obsidian has been historically collected in this area for many years and the hillsides are pocked with holes, some of them big enough to drive large vehicles into. And it's true that a surprising number of obsidian artifacts have been recovered in the Midwest in association with Hopewell period sites - their source was the subject of considerable speculation prior to their geochemical characterization in the late 1960's.
But once again the facts spoil what was a good story. It turns out that the source of the Hopewell obsidian was located in Yellowstone National Park (Obsidian Cliff) and in eastern Idaho not far from Yellowstone (Bear Gulch). Trace element studies of obsidian artifacts from Glass Buttes demonstrate that this source was used in central and eastern Oregon, Washington, and even British Columbia, but that the glass definitely didn't make its way east to Ohio. In fact, we've never seen a Glass Buttes artifact in any of the neighboring states to the south or east - California, Nevada, and Idaho.

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