Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society
Junior Member: Earth Science Scholar Program
A recent discovery was made in El Paso County, Colorado where a small cache of Ute lithics (stone tools) was buried more than 14 decades—perhaps centuries ago. A number of lithics were carefully buried so that they could be used when the tribe was back in the area. It was like putting valuables in a safety deposit box; however the Ute people used the ground to bury valuables for later use.
Colorado started out originally as an Indian territory and was owned by the Ute people. The Ute used this area as their hunting grounds and traded with pioneers coming through the area and other Native American tribes. When the Utes traded, like most Native Americans, they traded meats and arrowheads for horses, weapons and beads (Veatch, personal communication, 2012).
|Figure 1. Ute encampment circa 1873 by W. H. Jackson. In the foreground is a white goat. The other white images are also goats. Darker goats appear in shades of grey. Photo ID:Jackson, W.H., 1173 courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.|
For purposes of cutting hide and meat of animals such as elk, deer, rabbit, and possibly bison, the Ute made or traded for the moss agate knife in figure 2. The moss agate knife probably is not from Colorado because there is no known source of moss agate in Colorado.
|Figure 2. Ute knife made of moss agate from Montana. Scale is in millimeters. Photo © S. W. Veatch. Specimen from the Collection of Amanda Adkins.|
Moss agate has a hardness of 7, a conchoidal fracture, and a specific gravity of 2.60. Moss agate forms when gas bubbles trapped in solidifying lava become filled with silica and alkali rich water, which then turns into a gel. The “moss” in moss agate is from impurities that form during this process.
The semiprecious opal spearhead in figure 3 was also found In El Paso County. It was also made by the Ute people in the area, and the opal may have come from El Paso County. The Ute used it for of stone tools like arrowheads and knives due to its capability of being knapped.
|Figure 3. Semiprecious opal spearhead made by Ute Indians. Scale is in millimeters. Found in El Paso County. Photo © S. W. Veatch. Specimen from the Collection of Amanda Adkins.|
Opal forms when water deep in the earth dissolves silica from surrounding rocks. When the water/silicate solution enters a cavity, it starts to form tiny silica spheres. If they arrange themselves into a uniform shape and size, they will refract light (precious opal). If they arrange randomly and are not of the same size, then the material will become common opal ("Opal, October’s birthstone," 2012).
To conclude, the Ute people used their knowledge of trading, and of the local occurrence of rocks, minerals, and other materials to make tools and decoration. The craftsmanship of their tools allowed the Utes to thrive in mountain areas until they were displaced by the United States government. The two lithic tools recently found in a cache attest to the beauty, craftsmanship, and utility of their tools.
Agate. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.desertusa.com/mag98/april/papr/geo_agate.html
Opal, October’s birthstone. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.gemsociety.org/info/gems/Opal.htm
Ute Indians fact sheet. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.bigorrin.org/ute_kids.htm
Veatch, S. (2012, May 8). Interview by L. Sattler [Personal Interview]. cache of Ute artifacts.
Luke is an avid rock, mineral, and fossil collector. He is a member of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society and participates in the youth division. He has written a number of papers on the geosciences and has been published throughout the nation. He is in 9th grade and lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.