LOS SITIOS DEL AGUA, NORTHERN SONORA   

                                                                                                                                       

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The vent and dome at Los Sitios del Agua

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

    Based on a 1992 analysis of 71 obsidian artifacts from various sites located in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Steve Shackley noted 10 artifacts that exhibited an elemental chemistry different from any yet identified in the Southwest (Shackley 1992, 2005).  Since then, this unlocated source called AZ Unknown A, has been found in archaeological sites of various age throughout southern Arizona, as far north as the Phoenix Basin (Shackley 2005; Shackley and Tucker 2001).  While exploring Historic era trails in northwestern Sonora, Mexico, members of the Ajo Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society discovered a previously unknown source of obsidian and other archaeological sites adjacent to the Rio Sonoyta in northern Sonora (Figure 1). This newly discovered source, called Los Sitios del Agua, is AZ Unknown A and finally locates this most vexing unknown obsidian sources in the region and provides important source provenance data for the Archaic through Historic periods in the southern Southwest.

                                                                            

THE DISCOVERY

 During the spring of 2006, several members of the Ajo Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society were exploring back roads in northwestern Sonora, Mexico. After emerging onto a wide flat terrace immediately above the floodplain of the Rio Sonoyta, nodules of obsidian were observed among the gravels covering the terrace. During a return visit in the fall of 2006, an obsidian quarry was discovered in the hills at the northern edge of this same terrace. Based on the results of a trace element analysis of two samples conducted by the Northwest Research Obsidian Studies Laboratory in Corvallis, Oregon it is known that the characteristics of this obsidian (Table 1) are the same as those from Los Vidrios Obsidian Quarry (LV) (Skinner 2007a) as originally reported by Shackley (1988, 1995, 2005).

In the spring of 2007, exploration along the banks of the Rio Sonoyta approximately 8-9 km downstream from the LV quarry revealed obsidian marekanites littering the sides of a rhyolite dome complex. The trace element characteristics of four samples of this obsidian (Table 1) did not match those from LV, but instead were the same as those classified as “Unknown 1" by Skinner (2007a, 2007c) and as AZ Unknown A discovered by Shackley (1992, 1995, 2005). The obsidian source for these samples previously known as Unknown 1 and AZ Unknown A has now been located and will be named the Los Sitios del Agua Obsidian Quarry (LSA).  In October 2008 Rick and Sandy Martynec and Steve Shackley re-visited the rhyolite dome complex for two days, recorded and mapped the LSA source again, and collected over 300 marekanite samples for study at Berkeley. 

                                                                                              

THE OBSIDIAN AT LOS SITIOS DEL AGUA

 

Los Sitios del Agua is a probable Tertiary Period dome complex oriented in a northwest-southeast arc (Figure 2 not yet drafted).  Typical of Tertiary rhyolite dome complexes that produce obsidian, Los Sitios del Agua exhibits perlitic lava bodies with abundant remnant marekanites, some as large as seven to eight centimeters, and many near five centimeters (Hughes and Smith 1993; Shackley 2005; Figure 3 here). 

As with Los Vidrios, the Los Sitios del Agua domes appear to be part of a bimodal volcanic field known as the Sierra Pinacate Volcanic Field that consists of initial Tertiary events, mainly rhyolite in composition followed by mainly mafic eruptive events to the west of the earlier rhyolite during the Quaternary including 10 maar volcanic events (Donnelly 1974; Gutmann 2007; Gutmann et al. 2000).  Virtually no geological research has been directed toward the rhyolite on the eastern portion of the volcanic field other than the initial work by Shackley (1988, 1995, 2005). The rhyolite domes discussed here are not part of the biosphere reserve, and have been virtually ignored geologically.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Los Vidrios dome complex west of Los Sitios del Agua

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The majority of obsidian at the LSA quarry does not appear to have been formed in the same manner as that at Los Vidrios. Virtually all of the LSA marekanites are remnant marekanites in perlitic lava.  None of the marekanites were produced by ash flows as in the Los Vidrios case (Shackley 1988; Figure 3 here).  In addition to the angular quality of the obsidian from the LSA quarry, there are color variations within the site. Scattered about and localized in at least one area are light grey marekanites of obsidian.  Even more startling is a small quarry near the center of the LSA quarry where beautiful, jade green colored obsidian was apparently mined based on what appears to be a small prospect; this green obsidian has been termed Kate’s Green after its discoverer.  When tested by the Skinner (2007c) this green obsidian was found to have nearly the same trace element composition as the surrounding jet black obsidian.  Analysis of source standards here in the Berkeley lab indicates substantive differences in barium in the green samples, however (Tables 2 and 3).  The other measured elements are similar (Table 3).  It is obvious that this unique colored obsidian held a special appeal. It still does today.

 

 

 

SOURCE DESCRIPTION 

 

            Although most of the surface obsidian at the LSA quarry exhibits a shiny, almost freshly broken appearance, only a few lithic reduction stations were noted. While examination of the site revealed scattered reduction flakes and cores, there are a few locations where numerous nodules have been tested by the bipolar reduction method.  Here amongst the layers of debitage can be found  large, thin primary flakes, some are quite long exceeding 5 cm in length. This undoubtedly was a characteristic desired for the production of the small, delicately made projectile points and cutting and scraping tools found on nearby sites. One is led to conclude from the lack of secondary and final pressure flaking debitage at the LSA quarry, that the larger and more desirable flakes were transported to other locations for further and final refinement.   Knapping experiments by Shackley noted that LSA obsidian is considerably less brittle than the nearby Los Vidrios obsidian that occurs in much larger quantities.  Production of a Desert Side-notched projectile point from the production of a bipolar flake took less than 20 minutes with excellent predictability.  As discussed below, this may be why Los Sitios del Agua is common in archaeological contexts to the north even though the source material is numerically inferior to Los Vidrios.

            Physically, the obsidian at the LSA quarry encompasses an area that measures approximately 800 meters north-south by 850 meters east-west; the base of the small hills are at 207 meters above sea level and rise to an elevation of 224 meters above sea level. The density of obsidian on the ground surface varies widely within the quarry from areas where there are no nodules to others where there are more than 500 in one square meter.  There appears to be virtually no secondary deposition into the Rio Sonoyta, at least as evident today.  This may be why it was not discovered by the earlier study in the 1980s (Shackley 1988).

 

 

The high surface density of marekanites at Los Sitios del Agua

 

XRF ANALYSIS

 

            Of over 300 marekanite samples collected from Los Sitios del Agua, 40 samples (» 13%) were analyzed by energy-dispersive x-ray fluorescence spectrometry for 16 elements, ten of which are reported here (Tables 2 and 3).  The laboratory and instrument protocol is included in the Appendix (see also Shackley 2005). 

            Immediately apparent is that this rhyolite lava is a mildly peralkaline rock.  These volcanic rocks are generally seen as a division of volcanics where the proportion of alumina (AlO2) is less than that of sodium and potassium oxides combined, but more importantly generally exhibits relatively high iron and zirconium values (Best 1982; Cann 1983; Hildreth 1981; Shackley 2005; see Figure 4 here).  These peralkaline volcanic rocks, including rhyolitic obsidian is common in rift regions were more mafic lava associated with the mantle is sampled and crustal volcanism occurs, such as the Great Rift Valley in eastern Africa.  In the Rio Sonoyta case, the elemental composition of Los Vidrios and Los Sitios del Agua couldn’t be more different (Figure 4).  There are no peralkaline obsidians north of the International border, but are quite common associated with the Sierra Madre Occidental, probably the largest rhyolite field in the world,  and the Chihuahuan Basin and Range just to the east of the Sierra of eastern Sonora and Chihuahua. (Gunderson et. al. 1986; Fralick et al. 1998; Shackley 2005).  In obsidian, peralkaline chemistry is objectified by very dark often opaque glass, and glass that is often green when viewed with transmitted light both caused by a high iron content.  The most archaeologically famous peralkaline glass in the New World is that from Sierra de Pachuca, in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico (Barker et al. 2002; Tenoria 1998).  The obsidian from Los Sitios del Agua Areas A, B, C, and E, are all translucent dark green similar to Pachuca, while the marekanites from Area D is an opaque light green -  all due to the relatively high iron.  This makes Los Sitios del Agua obsidian the most megascopically distinct of the Sonoran Desert obsidian sources.

 

LOS SITIOS DEL AGUA IN SITES NORTH OF THE BORDER

 

Besides the ten artifacts analyzed by Shackley from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument just north of the border, obsidian from Los Sitios del Agua has also been recorded (as AZ Unknown A) in other sites as far north as the Phoenix Basin.  Table 4 exhibits the number of artifacts produced from Los Sitios del Agua in Arizona sites.  The vast majority of Los Sitios del Agua obsidian is from sites in southern Arizona, including sites in the Phoenix Basin.  It is almost always in assemblages where Los Vidrios obsidian also occurs, suggesting that marekanites from both sources were collected prehistorically together while traveling along the Rio Sonoyta as discussed above.  It was not found at the Preclassic site of Snaketown on the Gila River Indian Nation, but a few were recovered from surface sites on the Gila River Indian Nation (Shackley 2005; Table 4 here).  It also was not recovered from the Classic Period sites of Pueblo Grande or Casa Grande (Bayman and Shackley 1999; Peterson et al. 1997).

 

CONCLUSION

 

            The discovery of the Los Sitios del Agua obsidian source in northern Sonora solves one of the last unlocated sources in the Southwest.  The glass proper, a green peralkaline obsidian, is unique in the Sonoran Desert for its color and just as unique chemically, and probably held value in prehistory.  Los Sitios del Agua is a small dome complex covering a much smaller area than the extensive dome complex of Los Vidrios, mostly across the Rio Sonoyta.  It does, however, occur in sites at least as far north as the Phoenix Basin and often in association with artifacts produced from Los Vidrios obsidian.  While these two Sonoyta River Valley obsidian sources were likely sampled by groups moving north or south through the area, it is not necessarily clear whether they can be used as a signature of shell exchange during any particular time period.  Reconnaissance of the valley by members of the Arizona Archaeological Society suggests that all time periods, particularly Preclassic through Historic periods are represented at sites in the region.


To References

                                                                             


 

Table 1.  Results of previous XRF Studies modified to include new findings (mean values) 

 

 

 

 

Trace Element Concentrations1

 

Ratios

 

 

Quarry Site

 

Zn

 

Pb

 

Rb

 

Sr

 

Y

 

Zr

 

Nb

 

Ti

 

Mn

 

Ba

 

Fe2O3

 

Fe:Mn

 

Fe:Ti

 

Los Vidrios (Skinner 2007a)

 

82

 

28

 

258

 

14

 

67

 

216

 

28

 

445

 

178

 

16

 

1.29

 

62.8

 

93.9

 

Los Vidrios (Shackley 1995)

n.r.2

n.r.

260

14

75

235

32

784

208

82

1.31

n.r

n.r.

 

Unknown 1 (Skinner 2007a)

Los Sitios del Agua (LSA)

 

113

 

25

 

140

 

15

 

83

 

691

 

47

 

1092

 

444

 

33

 

3.24

 

60.1

 

97.0

AZ Unknown A (Shackley 1992, 1995, 2005)

n.r.

n.r

141

18

79

713

47

2265

566

n.r

n.r

n.r

n.r

1 All trace element values reported in parts per million

2 n.r. = no report

 

 

To the raw elemental data

 

 

 Table 2.  Mean and central tendency for elemental concentrations for the Los Sitios del Agua source standards for Localities A, B, C, and E source standards analyzed at Berkeley.  All measurements in parts per million (ppm).

 

 

 

 

Ti

Mn

Fe

Zn

Rb

Sr

Y

Zr

Nb

Ba

N

 

36

36

36

36

36

36

36

36

36

34

Mean

1261

543

25821

148

143

12

81

724

48

121

Std. Error of Mean

16

38

335

2

1

0

1

3

1

2

Std. Deviation

94

230

2008

11

7

2

3

20

3

13

Minimum

1052

384

20158

127

126

10

72

666

40

93

Maximum

1455

1727

29443

170

156

17

88

762

56

142

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 3.  Mean and central tendency for Los Sitios del Agua for Locality D (green marekanites) source standards analyzed at Berkeley (note barium values versus data in Table 2).  All measurements in parts per million (ppm).

 

  

 

 

Ti

Mn

Fe

Zn

Rb

Sr

Y

Zr

Nb

Ba

N

 

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

4

 

 
 

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Mean

1356

516

26358

154

142

15

81

716

45

186

Std. Error of Mean

98

22

1090

4

2

1

2

11

1

2

 

Std. Deviation

197

43

2181

9

5

2

3

21

1

4

Minimum

1219

468

24402

147

137

14

76

686

44

181

Maximum

1647

570

29453

166

147

17

83

733

47

190

 


 

 

 

Table 4. Number of artifacts produced from Los Sitios del Agua in various sites in Arizona analyzed at Berkeley.

 

 

 

Site or Project

Number of LSA samples

Reference

Organ Pipe Cactus Nat. Monument

10

Shackley 1992

Gila River Indian Nation (surface survey)

4

Shackley 2004, 2006

Tumacacori Nat. Hist. Park

2

Shackley 2008a

Ajo Sites (BLM)

5

Shackley 2008b

Cabeza Prieta Nat. Wildlife Refuge

10

Shackley 2008c

Tohono O'odahm Nation

2

Shackley 2008d

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2.  The Los Sitios del Agua dome complex and surrounding features.  Letters denote collection areas recorded, analyzed, and discussed in text (see Table 1).  Rancho Los Vidrios Viejos is that structure mentioned in Shackley (1988) from the 1985 survey.  Marker 15696 is the INEGI, Mexico federal marker.  Grid is 1000 meters, declination is 13º 15' in 1981, adapted from the El Papalote (H12A13) Sonora/Arizona sheet, INEGI, Mexico.


 

 

 

 

Figure 3.  Marekanite remnants in perlitic lava at Area B, Los Sitios del Agua.


 

 

 

 

 

 Figure 4.  Rb versus Zr biplot of source standards from Los Sitios del Agua and Los Vidrios, Sonora.  Measurements in parts per million (ppm).

 

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