A preliminary study on a large scraper from Central Wyoming

This paper is about an unusual artefact from Wyoming that may have been used by prehistoric people. It has now been studied and the preliminary research results are complete.

This ancient scraper is a bifacial, thinned, cortical flaked tool, which means that its flakes were struck from the exterior of a chert nodule (hence the remaining cortex, or rough surface, visible on one face, Fig. 1). To make it bifacial, the edges were then flaked on both sides to form a cutting or scraping edge used for working with things like meat and hide, among others possibilities (Walker, Danny, Personal communication 2012).

scraper-front-and-back-vis-versaFig. 1. Front and back view of bifacial scraper, showing flaking by ancient people in Wyoming. Rough surface of a chert nodule is revealed on the surface. Photo by S Veatch.

The scraper is made out of chert, which is a sedimentary microcrystalline variety of quartz that forms when microcrystals of silicon dioxide grow within sediments. The microcrystals grow into irregularly shaped nodules or concretions, as dissolved silica is transported to the formation site by the movement of ground water or the sea. When there is more than one nodule or concretion forming at the same time and near to each other, they can join together and form large masses or layers of bedded chert. Some of the silicon dioxide in chert is thought to have a biological origin. In some oceans and shallow seas, large numbers of organisms have a silica-rich skeleton (for example, the tiny spike-like structures called spicules from sponges), which can form these chert formations when the skeletons break down after the organisms die, to dissolve, recrystallise and sometimes become chert nodules or chert layers (Chert, 2012).

The chert artefact appears to be pre-Shoshone or pre-Lakota, but more studies at the site need to be done. The historical Shoshone were nomadic people, who travelled over portions of the western USA, occupying parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Montana and Arizona. They were hunters and gathers, and their diet consisted of berries, roots, pine nuts, rabbit, antelope, and buffalo, while their housing consisted of buffalo hide tepees. Shoshone clothing changed between the different seasons; from men wearing just a breech cloth around their waist and women wearing an apron in the summer, to wearing rabbit fur jackets and pants – even buffalo hide capes in the winter. This scraper would have been a valuable and versatile tool. In fact, the Shoshone tribe (Fig. 2) may have used it for a variety of uses, but most likely to cut meat and hide for making clothes and other useful things (Shoshone life, 2012). (Note that it was Sacagawea — a Shoshone, who gained notoriety as the famous Native American who helped lead Lewis and Clark on their expedition through Shoshone lands.)

However, it is also possible that it was the Lakota peoples who used the scraper. There are many things that the Lakota have in common with the Shoshone, such as:

  • The fact that the Lakota were also nomadic peoples, who hunted mainly buffalo and other small animals like deer and antelope.
  • The Shoshone and the Lakota both lived in tepees, for most of the time (Lakota Indian facts, 2012).

Many historical artefacts in museums have a ‘no information tag’ about where they came from or who made them. However, the job of scientists is to try and think outside the box, and use the information at hand and the best knowledge available to establish as many facts about the artefacts they have come across, either in the field or a box in the basement of a museum, to figure out what may have happened. And, hopefully, this is what has been achieved in this paper.

Luke has been faithfully attending meetings of the Colorado Springs Mineralogical Society’s Pebble Pup/Junior meetings for over three years. He has made many contributions to the programs, brings rocks and minerals to share with the other youth members, has helped the instructor on many occasions, and has had articles and research papers published in international magazines and local newspapers. He is a skilled researcher in the geosciences.

shoshone_indiansFig. 2. Shoshone family.


Chert. (2012, March 21). Retrieved from http://geology.com/rocks/chert.shtml.

Lakota Indian facts. (2012, March 22). Retrieved from http://www.bigorrin.org/Lakota_kids.htm.

Shoshone life. (2012, March 21). Retrieved from http://www.shashoneindian.com/shashone_life.htm.

Walker, Danny (March 2012). (Note: Walker is assistant Wyoming State Archaeologist.) Interview by Luke Sattler [Personal Interview]. Wyoming artefact. Scraper Question Email, USA.

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