Application of petrographic and geochemical methods to sourcing felsitic archaeological materials in southeastern New England

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At least four volcanic complexes of different age and petrologic character occur in southeastern New England. Each complex contains a variety of fine-grained felsitic rocks, and three of these are known to have been quarried by prehistoric people for material used in the production of stone tools. These volcanics include a Late Proterozoic calcalkaline suite (Lynn-Mattapan) and several alkaline suites of Ordovician to Carboniferous age (Blue Hill, Spencer Hill, and Wamsutta suites). Each suite exhibits unique petrographic and geochemical features that help to constrain sources of felsitic archaeological materials. Distinctive petrographic features are: (1) Lynn / Mattapan: mostly pyroclastic rocks that typically contain broken crystals, volcanic clasts, and relict pumice and glass shards; phenocrysts of plagioclase, quartz, and perthite, commonly in glomeroporphyritic clusters; accessory sphene and prominent late-stage epidote; some varieties exhibit distinct flow-banding. (2) Blue Hill and Spencer Hill rocks: mainly lava flows; abundant perthite and quartz phenocrysts, with minor or no plagioclase; accessory minerals may include fluorite, aegerine, riebeckite, zircon, and allanite. (3) Wamsutta rhyolite: phenocrysts solely of anorthoclase; quartz restricted to late-stage filling of vesicles, and to planar, subparallel fractures in-filled as lithophysae; lava flows with devitrified glass matrix. Major element geochemistry is of limited use in distinguishing the volcanic groups, but trace element signatures are distinct and provide excellent criteria to discriminate rocks from each suite. Compared to the Lynn/Mattapan suite, the Blue Hill and Spencer Hill rocks exhibit higher concentrations of Rb, Y, Zr, Nb, La, Ce and Zn, and lower concentrations of Sr and Ba. Wamsutta rhyolite is intermediate in composition, but distinct. Examination of material from six prehistoric quarries, and debitage collected at seven archaeological sites, demonstrates that most samples can be assigned to one of the above volcanic suites based on combined petrographic and geochemical attributes. These geologic attributes add a significant element of quantification to archaeological sourcing problems that lead to improved identification of materials compared to hand sample characterization alone. The volcanics from source areas proximal to the Boston basin were important to Early and Middle Archaic period populations across most of southeastern Massachusetts. During the Late/Terminal Archaic period, these materials were being transported extensively throughout eastern and southeastern Massachusetts, the Narragansett Bay area, and parts of Rhode Island. Thus, routinely applied geological methods can provide useful approaches to constrain the sources of felsites from southeastern New England found in archaeological contexts. © 1997 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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Geoarchaeology - An International Journal