Fifty years ago the National Historic Preservation Act was created to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. While many of these features are other structures with significant historical context, some treasures go back thousands of years and provide evidence of earlier civilizations. Dotting the landscape of western North Dakota, principally along the Knife River and Spring Creek, lies a pockmarked terrain telling the tale of one of North Dakota’s earliest industries. Long before the production of coal and oil dominated North Dakota’s mineral resources, Knife River flint was quarried to produce stone tools for over ten thousand years. Evidence of trade in the flint has been observed as far west as Alberta, Canada and east to Ohio.
The Lynch Knife River Flint Quarries District is comprised of fifty-four excavation sites. Covering 6,375 acres, it is one of the largest known flint quarry complexes in North America. The District is named after the largest component within the complex, the 690 acre Lynch Quarry. Extensive mining was done at the sites over thousands of years. Pits were dug that ranged in depth from 3 to 10 feet, and the early miners left implements that help explain how the flint was mined and processed. Villages appear to have been temporary, with most of the quarried material transported away for further reduction in the making of tools.
Knife River flint originates from a silicified lignite bed. It was highly prized because it could more easily be fashioned into projectile points, knives, and scraping tools, compared to other fine-grained minerals such as obsidian. Flint tools could be created by striking it with a blunt stone, antler or hardwood to cause it to break into flakes. Known as knapping, individual pieces could be shaped into a variety of tools with sharp edges. As an arrowhead or spear point, it increased the striking power and allowed for greater accuracy. Knives and scrapers enhanced the processing of food.
Thousands of pits that comprise the sites bear witness to the scale and extent of quarrying actives, and to early man’s reliance on this important resource. On this date in 2011, the National Park Service designated the Lynch Quarry as a National Historic Landmark indicating its significance in documenting the social evolution of life on the Northern Plains.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
Source: Source: North Dakota Archaeology Awareness- 2011, “Knife River Flint Quarries” State Historical Society of North Dakota, 2011