Historical Markers
Indian Jasper Quarries Historical Marker
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Indian Jasper Quarries

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Dedication Date:
October 23, 1952

Behind the Marker

Vera Cruz Jasper Park quarry pit.
Vera Cruz Jasper Park quarry pit.
Many people think of pre-Columbian Indians as "living in the Stone Age." That is to say, we conjure images of them dressed in animal skins, making their homes in caves, and hunting their food with spears and bows and arrows. In one sense, that image is correct.

The Indians who lived in what would become Pennsylvania did not possess metal-working technology before the arrival of Europeans. They manufactured all of their tools from stone, bone, or wood. But that does not mean that they were not technologically sophisticated in how they produced their clothing, shelter, tools, and weapons.

Over thousands of years, Indians of the Paleo, Archaic, and Woodland Ages adapted to their environment, finding new and ingenious ways to secure resources from it, and developing culturally distinct technologies and arts in the process.
Comparison of jasper tools with other material types.
Comparison of jasper tools with other material types.

The ancient Indian quarries of Lehigh, Bucks, and Berks counties are a good illustration of this process. Jasper is a blackish-green quartz mineral commonly found with limestone, and the steep hills of the Lehigh Valley are rich in this resource. Indians used it to make arrowheads, knives, scrapers, jewelry, and other items.

They valued it for the same reasons that it remains valued by jewelers today: it is a hard, workable stone that often contains stunning colors because of the presence of other minerals within it. Indians associated the texture and color of such stones with spiritual well-being and thus incorporated it into their bodily decoration and traded over considerable distances to acquire it.

The process by which Indian craftsmen turned stone into edged tools is called flint knapping. It took patience and skill, but also resulted in products of enduring utility and beauty. Typically, a flint knapper began by striking a stone with a tool that caused it to flake until it thinned to a desirable width. The craftsman would then use another tool, made out of stone or antler, to refine the shape of the item by applying pressure to cracks and fissures that would cause more flaking.

Repeated many times over, this process would result in an arrowhead, knife, or other tool that could be notched, fluted, stemmed, or serrated for a specific use, such as attachment to a wooden spear or handle. Or, the stone might be incorporated into a piece of jewelry to be worn in the ears or around the arms or neck.
Jasper Flakes
Jasper Flakes

Archaeologists working in the 1890s uncovered nine ancient jasper quarries in the Lehigh Valley region. These sites typically consisted of shafts dug ten or more feet into the ground, accompanied by refuse piles of soil, rocks, and stone tools and chips. Judging from jasper discovered at village sites in the bottom lands of the Lehigh Valley, ancient Indians set up "mining camps" near these quarries, and then carried the jasper down into their homes in the valley, where they worked it into various goods. Indians also mined quartz and flint in this region. [Jasper was one of the items Indians traveled and traded for over great distances.]

The jasper quarried in the Lehigh Valley accounts in part for the paths through this region that connected local Indians with other groups living in New Jersey, New York, and New England. In exchange for jasper mined in the Lehigh Valley, these Indians probably traded marine shell beads from coastal regions.

Indians continued to mine jasper there until the late 1600s, when the arrival of European traders and colonists dramatically altered the Indians' material culture and subsistence patterns. The iron and brass goods brought by these newcomers were lighter, sharper, and more durable than similar items that Indians manufactured out of stone, bone, and wood. Within a generation or two, the fur trade became the chief means by which Indians acquired these new items, and they largely abandoned many of their old methods of production.
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