New light shed on early turquoise mining in Southwest — ScienceDaily

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Turquoise is an icon of the desert Southwest, with enduring cultural significance, especially for Native American communities. Yet, relatively little is known about the early history of turquoise procurement and exchange in the region.

University of Arizona researchers are starting to change that by blending archaeology and geochemistry to get a more complete picture of the mineral’s mining and distribution in the region prior to the 16th-century arrival of the Spanish.

In a new paper, published in the November issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, UA anthropology alumnus Saul Hedquist and his collaborators revisit what once was believed to be a relatively small turquoise mine in eastern Arizona. Their findings suggest that the Canyon Creek mine, located on the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, was actually a much more significant source of turquoise than previously thought.

With permission from the White Mountain Apache Tribe, Hedquist and his colleagues visited the now essentially exhausted Canyon Creek source — which has been known to archaeologists since the 1930s — to remap the area and collect new samples. There, they found evidence of previously undocumented mining areas, which suggest the output of the mine may have been 25 percent higher than past surveys indicated.

“Pre-Hispanic workings at Canyon Creek were much larger than previously estimated, so the mine was clearly an important source of turquoise while it was active,” said Hedquist, lead author of the paper, who earned his doctorate from the UA School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in May.

In addition, the researchers measured ratios of lead and strontium isotopes in samples they collected from the mine, and determined that Canyon Creek turquoise has a unique isotopic fingerprint that distinguishes it from other known turquoise sources in the Southwest. The isotopic analysis was conducted in the lab of UA College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz in the Department of Geosciences by study co-author and UA geosciences alumna Alyson Thibodeau. Now an assistant professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Thibodeau did her UA dissertation on isotopic fingerprinting of geological sources of turquoise throughout the Southwest.

“If you pick up a piece of turquoise from an archaeological site and say ‘where does it come from?’ you have to have some means of telling the different turquoise deposits apart,” said David Killick, UA professor of anthropology, who co-authored the paper with Hedquist, Thibodeau and John Welch, a UA alumnus now on the faculty at Simon Fraser University. “Alyson’s work shows that the major mining areas can be distinguished by measurement of major lead and strontium isotopic ratios.”

ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: New light shed on early turquoise mining in Southwest — ScienceDaily


Interested in Mesoamerican history? Check out my book “Totacho: Our Way Of Talking” available on In it, I detail the major influence that the Nawatl language has had on the “Spanish” spoken by Chicanos and Chicanas in the Southwest.

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Kurly Tlapoyawa is an archaeologist, author, and ethnohistorian. His research focuses primarily on the interaction between Mesoamerica, Western Mexico, and the American Southwest. Kurly has lectured at UNLV, University of Houston, and Yale University on topics related to Mesoamerica. His recent book, “Our Slippery Earth: Nawa Philosophy in the Modern Age” was published in 2017. In addition to his work in Archaeology and Ethnohistory, Kurly is a professional stuntman with over 35 credits to his name. Kurly lives in New Mexico.

Follow Kurly on twitter @KurlyTlapoyawa

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