Snaggy Ridge Indian Rhyolite Quarries

By Dakota Bricker

       For over 11,000 years Snaggy Ridge was mined by Indians for a very dense, volcanic rock called rhyolite (MacDonald 47), that they used to make arrowheads and rock tools that litter ground of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States (Carr). Located one mile southeast of Caledonia State Park in Michaux State Forest, is the Snaggy Ridge Indian Rhyolite Quarries. The quarries are in Carbaugh Run Natural Area, a protected archeological site. What rhyolite is and how it got on Snaggy Ridge, the time period Indians used and mined rhyolite and how they used the rhyolite, mining techniques on Snaggy Ridge, and the distribution and trade of rhyolite over the Mid-Atlantic region are many facts the public does not know.

       Rhyolite, (or Metarhyolite as it is called by scientist), is a volcanic rock. There are many types of rhyolite units. The unit on Snaggy Ridge is a mottled rhyolite that has "thin, black streaks and bands set in bluish-gray and yellow-gray to light-brownish rock" (Fauth 20).  Rhyolite can be found also with pink or purplish colors. Rhyolite formed in the Snaggy Ridge area around 600 million years ago. This area was constantly erupting. The rock formed was originally basalt later turning to rhyolite. This left most of the area rhyolite with the exception of "the coarse-grained metabasalt that is restricted to a few localities in the valley of Rocky Mountain Creek, and near Carbaugh Run between Snaggy Ridge and Mt Newman" (Fauth 18).  Then, sediment was brought to Snaggy Ridge and was dropped off there by an ancient sea. Then, around 240 million years ago, movements in the earth's crust caused mountain building and metamorphosed the sedimentary rocks into quartzite, leaving traces of quartz on Snaggy Ridge which can still be seen today. Around 100 million years ago the volcanic activity stopped (Fauth 13-15). All this activity caused rhyolite to become abundant on South Mountain from Snaggy Ridge to Harpers Ferry. This makes it the largest source of rhyolite in Pennsylvania and in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This provided a great source of hard rocks, in abundance, conveniently located next to an animal trail running through Blacks Gap, for Indians to use to make points for spears, arrows, and other tools for thousands of years (MacDonald).

       Indians used rhyolite for thousands of years. Indians started to use rhyolite in the middle of the Paleo Period around 9,500 B. C. Rhyolite was very hard so was a very useful rock to make hard points that will be sharp and can kill an animal. Rhyolite use stayed the same in the early Archaic Period (8,000 B.C.-6,800 B.C.). In the middle Archaic Period (6,800 B.C.-3,300 B.C.) the population increased due to the forest changing from evergreen forest to hardwood forest. This increased the amount of game for food, resulting in the increase of spear points made from rhyolite. In the research done in the Juniata sub-basin, out of all the artifacts found, 32% were made from rhyolite (MacDonald 66). In research done on Snaggy Ridge, charcoal was found in pits where Indians dug to mine rhyolite and was carbon dated. The charcoal was found to be used for cooking or for warmth and was dated to be 8,000 years old. This puts the charcoal back to the middle Archaic, proving that the quarries were being extensively mined at the latest the middle Archaic Period and possibly before (Carr). Rhyolite increased to37.9% of all the artifacts found, dated to the late Archaic Period (3,300 B.C.-1,800B.C.), showing that rhyolite use is increasing. All the rhyolite found in the Juniata sub-basin can be traced back to rhyolite on Snaggy Ridge, (MacDonald 95). In the Terminal Archaic Period (1,800 B.C.-1,000B.C.) rhyolite use again increased. Points made in this period required hard rock that can easily be made into points. Rhyolite fits all these needs (MacDonald 113). During the Woodland Period (1,000 B. C.- Arrival of Europeans) rhyolite use gradually decreased until the arrival of the Europeans. Mining at Snaggy Ridge finally stopped around the beginning of the 1 700s when trade was opened up between white men and Indians. Indians switched from stone tools and points to metal tools, points, and black powder muskets.

       Rhyolite was used for many things. It was used to make stone spear points like the Susquehanna Broad Point. The Susquehanna Broad Point was a spear point that was used a lot during the Terminal Archaic Period. 95% of Susquehanna Broad Points were made from rhyolite (Geasey, Ballweber 1 12).  Broad Points found in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region were most likely made from rhyolite from Snaggy Ridge. Rhyolite was also used to make stone tools like scrappers, hammer stones for food processing, and hammer stones for mining.   Also, rhyolite was used for sledge hammers, hammers, axes, hatchets, knives, drill bits, leather punches, tomahawks, and for jewelry like gorgets (Wilbur). Later, during the Woodland Period, bow and arrow s were invented and put into use. 1ndians then started using rhyolite to make arrowheads. To make arrowheads and spear points they used a technique called knapping.  Knapping is the process used to chip and flake a rock material into a point for a spear, arrow, knife, etc. This process is used throughout the history of Native Americans to make these points.

       Archaeologist have discovered that most mining of the ridge during the Paleo and early Archaic Periods  were probably just Indians going to Snaggy Ridge and picking up pieces of rhyolite from the outcrops. If there was mining going on, it wasn't very often and not common because of lndians being nomadic during this time period. In the middle Archaic Period, Indians, who stopped being nomadic and started living in one area, had more time on their hands and started going for quality rhyolite buried under the surface. Most of the actual mining happened during the Terminal Archaic Period. Because the exposed rhyolite was very hard to work with, the Indians started digging. Due to the moisture of the ground, the workable rhyolite that was easy to make into a point or tool was under the ground. Under the soil and small - pieces of rock rubble, about two meters (about 6 feet) down are large, naturally formed rhyolite blocks, that were 50 cm by 50 cm by 100 cm (Carr), and weighing about 1,650 pounds.  The rhyolite naturally breaks into these blocks and the cracks are soon overcome with roots of trees. After many years of roots rotting growing back hard clay soil develops made from shoulder bones of an elk, Indians removed the rubble above the block and the hardpan between the blocks. To pry the large block from the ground, they used large hammer stones and rhyolite wedges. All this digging left large pits in the ground that can still be seen today on Snaggy Ridge (Carr).

       After the block was exposed to the air, large basalt hammer stones, that were most likely from the closest source at Carbaugh Run or possibly from Rocky Mountain Creek, were used to break the blocks into large flakes to make them more portable. Then, the Indians would take these flakes to a place like a rock shelter or what is called a processing station to make them into small flakes that could be carried to their camps. "Breaking up the large blocks into more portable flakes so they could be easily made into tools at a more comfortable spot is the process which produced the massive piles of chipping debris', (Carr). The processing stations and rock shelters are marked by piles of chips that can still be seen today.

       After the rhyolite was processed into something small enough to carry, they would head back to their camp with the rhyolite that was mined in "woven fabric bags or wooden baskets" (Fergus,  29). Points and tools,   made to be used on the hunt or in camp, were made at camp and not at the mines (Carr). The Ebbert Spring Archaeological Site, located south of Greencastle, PA is a good example of an Indian camp. Most points found at the site are 95% rhyolite and rhyolite chips were found in abundance there. This shows that they brought the rhyolite back to camp and knapped the points there. Indians also camped next to Carbaugh Run in the valley between Snaggy Ridge and Mount Newman. A large amount of chips and unfinished spear points were found by archaeologists to confirm that Indians did camp there. Like other camps, Indians would take their rhyolite that was mined and take it to their camp, five hundred feet below the ridge, along Carbaugh Run to finish making their points (Fergus 30).

       The Snaggy Ridge Quarries were shared by the Indian Tribes. It was considered a safety zone like the hunting land in Kentucky (Carr). Within the boundary of the quarries, Indians had to be respectful and treat each other as a brother, even though they may be from enemy tribes. When you step out of the boundary, then you can kill your enemy.  This was because the Indians believed the Great Spirit gave them this gift to all to ensure survival. This made the quarries a sacred place and "a high religious significance" (Carr). In fact, Carr found a spearhead made of rhyolite. This was not dropped by accident, but probably buried there as an offering.   Indians took the rock from the ground and they would return some as an offering (Fergus 30).

        Rhyolite pieces can be found all over the Mid-Atlantic region, but sources of rhyolite are spotty. To get the pieces of rhyolite all over the Mid-Atlantic region there had to be some kind of trade among the Indians. The three main sources of rhyolite on the east coast are in Massachusetts, the Carolinas, and South Mountain in Pennsylvania and Maryland, with the major source on Snaggy Ridge.   There was some trade of rhyolite during the Paleo Period. In the archaeological final report about the dig in the Juniata Sub-basin there was non-local rhyolite found that came from Snaggy Ridge (MacDonald 48). How did the rhyolite get there? Indians during this period were nomadic. They covered large amounts of land following the herds spreading rhyolite and other lithic material all over Pennsylvania. Snaggy Ridge, the major source of rhyolite, is conveniently located next to Blacks Gap which was an animal trail through the mountains that Indians traveled as the only local route through South Mountain connecting the Great Valley to the Piedmont region. The trail also goes west towards the Juniata Sub-basin and through a lot of the archaeological areas located there and studied for the final report done by MacDonald. The rhyolite found at the Juniata Sub-basin clearly shows that the mines were definitely in use around 9,500 BC, (MacDonald).

       During the early Archaic Period, rhyolite use and population stayed the same meaning no increase in trade. In the investigation at the Juniata Sub-basin 7% of tools and points that were found was rhyolite (MacDonald 60). In the middle Archaic population increased due to the evergreen forest turning into hardwood forest. Use of rhyolite increased within 2,000 years very dramatically. In the Juniata Sub-basin rhyolite increased from 7% to 32 % meaning trade increased. Rhyolite found at the Juniata Sub-basin is from Snaggy Ridge. In the late Archaic rhyolite increased to 38% of artifacts in the Juniata Sub-basin (MacDonald).

       During the Transitional (or Terminal) Archaic Period, Indians mined Snaggy Ridge more often than Indians in other periods (Carr).  During this period of 800 years the spear points styles being made required a hard rock with the ability to flake easier. "Rhyolite fits this criteria"(MacDonald 109). During this period was when the Susquehanna Broad Point was made. "Almost all Susquehanna Broad Points are made of rhyolite" (Fogelman 150). The Broad Points that were possibly made from rhyolite from Snaggy Ridge have been found in the Susquehanna River Valley, Juniata River, New Jersey, and Delaware. The Susquehanna Broad Points in these have a similar make. This leads to a theory that they were possibly made by the same tribe. This means that there could have been some control of the quarries (Carr).

       During the Transitional (or Terminal) Archaic Period, the Indians developed the invention of the canoe. The canoe opened more trading opportunities. With the canoe Indians could take rhyolite as far as the rivers end, extending trade as far south as Virginia and West Virginia. During the Woodland Period, Indians still mined rhyolite from Snaggy Ridge, but the use decreased slowly until the arrival of the Europeans. Trade opened up to the Europeans and metal was being used by the Indians. There have been traces of rhyolite from Snaggy Ridge found on "islands on the Susquehanna River, Upper Delaware River, Potomac River, Shenandoah River in Virginia, Genesee and Mohawk Valleys in New York, and on the Delmerva Peninsula." (Fergus 30).

       Indians for 11,000 years have been using Snaggy Ridge. This normal ridge in South Mountain is normal to us, but sacred and a gift from the Great Spirit to the Indians. Though how little known this quarry is to the public, it is far from little when looked at through history. From the rhyolite the first formed there, to the mining techniques and many uses of the rock by the Indians, to its trade to its final resting place all over the Mid­ Atlantic region, the ridge is rich in history. You'll never know what is in your backyard.

Works Cited

Carr, Kurt W, and James M. Adovasio.Ice Age Peoples ofPennsylvania. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2002.

Carr,KurtW. E-mail Interview. 19 Oct. 2007.

Fauth, John L. Geology of the Caledonia Park Quadrangle Area- South Mountain, Pennsylvania.  Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Geological Survey, 1992.

Fergus, Charles. Natural Pennsylvania: Exploring the State Forest Natural Areas. Mechanicsburg, PA. Stackpole Books, 2002.

Fogelman,  Gary L.  "Experiments on City Island." Indian Artifact Magazine.  May. 2001:  24-25.  

Fogelman, Gary L. Projectile Point Typologvfor Pennsylvania and the Northeast. Tubotville, PA: Fogelman Publishing Company, 1988.               

Geasey, Spencer O, and Hettie L. Ballweber. "Prehistoric Utilization of the Highland Metarhyolite Outcrop in the Maryland Blue Ridge Province." Archaeology of Eastern North America #19. Attleboro, MA: Eastern States Archeological Federation, 1991. 108-112.

MacDonald, Douglas H. Pennsylvania Archaeological Data Synthesis: The Upper Juniata River Sub-Basin II (Watersheds A-D) Final Technical Report. Monroeville, PA: GAl Consultants, Inc, 2003.

 Wilbur, C. Keith M.D. Indian Handcrafts. Guilford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2001.

The son of Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Bricker Jr., Dakota, a senior in James Buchanan High School, presented information from his paper on the Snaggy Ridge Rhyolite Quarries to the historical society at its regularly scheduled meeting in January 2010.  At the end of his senior year Dakota, who is entering Shippensburg University, received one of the Glazer Scholarships, the school 's award for the senior excelling in history, the Charles Brightbill Scholarship presented by the Fort Loudon Historical Society, and the Joan C. McCulloh History Award presented by the Mercersburg Historical Society;  "

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