by Elizabeth S Paynter – CART Lab Director
Any field archaeologist can attest to the fact that quartz is the most abundant single mineral in the Earth’s crust. In Virginia, quartz vein outcrops are associated with igneous formations of the Blue Ridge and the Piedmont. Not only can quartz be seen in ground level outcrops, but it can also be found in small cobbles in streams. Quartz color varies and can be white, rose, smoky, or even “blue.” It often breaks into small blocky pieces along fractures. Since 56% of Fairfax is in the Piedmont Upland region, it is not surprising that CART archaeologists are very familiar with quartz. Quartz was one of the raw materials used by Native Americans to create stone tools such as projectile points. In our area, the abundance of quartz combined with the lack of other local raw materials suitable to making certain kinds of tools means that local archaeologists find a lot of quartz tools and debitage, the debris from making the tools. Unfortunately, the quality of quartz is variable which can cause difficulty in positively identifying if it is associated with human activity. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources points out that “given its ubiquitous distribution, highly variable quality, and the difficulty of analysis associated with quartz artifacts, the importance of quartz to Native peoples has long been underestimated by archaeologists” (VDHR 2018).
Fairfax County. 2013. Description and Interpretive Guide to Soils in Fairfax County. Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. Fairfax, Virginia. https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/landdevelopment/sites/landdevelopment/files/assets/documents/pdf/publications/soils_map_guide.pdf accessed March 5, 2020
MAC Lab. 2012. What Points are Made From? Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab (MAC Lab). Electronic. https://apps.jefpat.maryland.gov/diagnostic/ProjectilePoints/AboutProjectilePoints/WhatArePointsMadeFrom.html accessed March 6, 2020
VDHR Collections. 2018. Lithics: Vein Quartz. Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). Electronic. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/lithics/vein-quartz/ accessed March 6, 2020