Canyon Creek revisited: New investigations of a late prehispanic turquoise mine, Arizona, USA

Publication date: November 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 87
Author(s): Saul L. Hedquist, Alyson M. Thibodeau, John R. Welch, David J. Killick
Turquoise has been used in the American Southwest since “time immemorial,” and remains an important material for contemporary indigenous groups of the region. Detailed studies of ancient turquoise mines are few, however, and inferences of turquoise procurement and provenance have been limited. Our intensive investigation of one mine, the Canyon Creek locale in Arizona, integrates archaeology and geochemistry to enhance understanding of the mine and its output. A detailed description of the mine’s morphology and geologic setting lays foundations for interpreting an isotopic analysis of specimens from the mine’s four localities. The analysis reveals extremely radiogenic Pb isotope ratios, which distinguish Canyon Creek turquoise from that of other known sources in the American Southwest. Its distinctive isotopic signature makes Canyon Creek turquoise readily identifiable in archaeological assemblages. The presence of turquoise from Canyon Creek at late prehispanic settlements in east-central Arizona helps clarify the mine’s chronology of use and regional distribution. Our observations suggest the mine was larger than previously supposed, and that it provided an important source of turquoise for inhabitants of the region during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries AD.