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Alibates Flint Quarries

National Monument


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Geology photo of the flint quarries
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, Texas

Archeological traces of prehistoric Indians —homes, workshops, and campsites—dot the entire Canadian River region of the Texas Panhandle. Few sites are as dramatic as Alibates Flint Quarries, where, for 12,000 years, people quarried flint for toolmaking. Indians of the Ice Age Clovis Culture used Alibates flint for spear points to hunt the Imperial Mammoth before the Great Lakes were even formed. The flint usually lies just below the surface at ridge level in a layer up to six feet thick.

Unweathered flint was obtained by digging by hand or with sticks or bone tools. Chunks and pieces lying around these shallow quarry pits are the tailings or waste pieces. Flint was gathered and used by nomadic peoples for most of the quarry's history. However, farming Indians lived here between 1150 and 1500. They quarried the flint for tools and as trade goods. They hunted bison, antelope, deer, turkey, and other game and gathered mesquite beans, plunk, and yucca. They grew corn, beans, and squash using drylands methods with plants spaced far apart to capture soil moisture. You may visit the flint quarries only on guided walking tours with a park ranger. Tours leave at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day from the Contact Station. Off-season tours may be arranged in advance. Rock collecting is prohibited at Alibates. Natural features and archeological and historical objects are protected by federal law.

Wide-ranging Trade Networks
Archeologists find tools made of Alibates flint in many places in the Great Plains and Southwest. Its use dates from 12,000 years ago to about 1870. Distinctive for its many and bright colors, this flint comes from a 10-square-mile area around Lake Meredith.

Plains Village Indians
Between 1150 and 1500, Indians identified as the Plains Village Indians, ancestors of Pawnee or Wichita Indians, lived here in large permanent villages and smaller, outlying farming and gathering communizes. Villages were built of rock-slab houses of from one to 100 rooms. Most were single-unit dwellings, although some rooms were connected. Architecture of this period featured rectangular, semi-circular, and circular rooms, with tunneled entranceways and stone enclosures. It is believed that extensive, severe drought, coupled with raids from aggressive tribes to the west, drove these Indians out of this region by the end of the 15th century. The next historical period, the Plains stage, from 1500 to 1875, was characterized by nomadic tribal groups of hunters, Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa. During this time horses and European trade goods were introduced and, eventually, Anglo military campaigns and eastern buffalo hunters ended Indian occupation of the area.

Most signs of North America's earliest people have disappeared forever. The simple questions about the foods they ate, the homes they lived in, and the languages they spoke are still unanswered. In most cases their own remains have vanished, too. Often the only traces of human existence thousands of years ago are the tools and weapons these early people fashioned from stone.

Of all the different kinds of stone used in making tools, one of the most distinctive is Alibates flint. Normally flint has one characteristic shade, but Alibates flint has a multitude of bright colors in endless variations and patterns.

Archeologists find tools made of Alibates flint in many places in the Great Plains and the Southwest. The stone comes from a relatively small section of the Texas Panhandle, 26 square kilometers (10 square miles) around Lake Meredith on the Canadian River. The flint, in a layer up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) thick, usually lies just below the surface at ridge level.

To get unweathered flint out of the ground, man had to dig by hand or with sticks. Around these shallow quarry pits you can see chunks and pieces of flint, the waste materials or tailings of the quarrying operations.

Alibates flint is a hard rock that has a sharp edge when shaped properly. Early toolmakers were able to chip and flake it into an astonishing variety of everyday tools of survival. Archeologists have found knives, hammers, chisels, drills, axes, awls, fishhooks, buttons, hoes, scrapers and gravers, as well as dart points or arrowheads—all made out of Alibates flint.

Most evidence of the 12,000 years almost continuous use of Alibates flint comes not from these quarry pits, but from archeological excavations elsewhere. From 10,000 B.C. to possibly as late as the 1870s, Alibates flint was distributed widely over the High Plains. Most people who used it were nomads—hunters who followed game trails and never built permanent homes.

For a relatively short period, from about A.D. 1200 to 1450, however some people settled permanently near the quarries. They were farmers, but they also quarried flint and bartered it for such items as pottery, seashells, pipestone and obsidian. These people are referred to by archeologists as the "Panhandle Pueblo Culture"because they were Plains Village Indians whose houses show the influence of pueblo style houses in the Southwest.

park maps subheading

Map of the area where Alibates Flint Quarries is located

For information about topographic maps, geologic maps, and geologic data sets, please see the geologic maps page.

photo album subheading

A geology photo album for this park can be found here.

For information on other photo collections featuring National Park geology, please see the Image Sources page.

books, videos, cds subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for a park-specific geoscience book. The park's geology may be described in regional or state geology texts.

Please visit the Geology Books and Media webpage for additional sources such as text books, theme books, CD ROMs, and technical reports.

Parks and Plates: The Geology of Our National Parks, Monuments & Seashores.
Lillie, Robert J., 2005.
W.W. Norton and Company.
ISBN 0-393-92407-6
9" x 10.75", paperback, 550 pages, full color throughout

The spectacular geology in our national parks provides the answers to many questions about the Earth. The answers can be appreciated through plate tectonics, an exciting way to understand the ongoing natural processes that sculpt our landscape. Parks and Plates is a visual and scientific voyage of discovery!

Ordering from your National Park Cooperative Associations' bookstores helps to support programs in the parks. Please visit the bookstore locator for park books and much more.

geologic research subheading

For information about permits that are required for conducting geologic research activities in National Parks, see the Permits Information page.

The NPS maintains a searchable data base of research needs that have been identified by parks.

A bibliography of geologic references is being prepared for each park through the Geologic Resources Evaluation Program (GRE). Please see the GRE website for more information and contacts.

selected links subheading

NPS Geology and Soils Partners

NRCS logoAssociation of American State Geologists
NRCS logoGeological Society of America
NRCS logoNatural Resource Conservation Service - Soils
USGS logo U.S. Geological Survey

teacher feature subheading

Currently, we do not have a listing for any park-specific geology education programs or activities.

For resources and information on teaching geology using National Park examples, see the Students & Teachers pages.
updated on 01/04/2005  I   http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/alfl/index.cfm   I  Email: Webmaster
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