Sampling of North Carolina's Archaeological Sites
Rock Soapstone Quarry
Yancey County, NC
Before the invention
of pottery vessels, containers for cooking and storage consisted
of baskets, wooden bowls, carved stone bowls and probably such things
as turtle shells (as cups, dippers, and small bowls). For much of
what is now North Carolina, the introduction of pottery did not
occur until sometime after about 1,000 B.C.
The use of carved stone
bowls seems to have been most common during the Late Archaic period,
between ca. 4,000 and 1,000 B.C., although it may have continued
sometime later, into the Woodland period.
Soapstone, an impure
talcy rock which occurs in many parts of the North Carolina piedmont
and mountains, was a common raw material for carved stone bowls.
The stone is easily carved into bowl form, and was also used for
making smoking pipes and other small ornaments. The stone was quarried
from natural outcrops using stone chisels and axes. Smaller stone,
antler, bone or wood tools were then used to scrape out the finished
The Blue Rock soapstone
quarry, located in Yancey County (in the mountains) was a relatively
large source of the stone. The soapstone outcrop measures over 70
ft. by 50 ft., and it stands over 10 ft. high. The outcrop is marked
by numerous "pockmarks" or depressions measuring from 1 to 3 ft.
in diameter, many of which contain a small spur or pedestal-like
projection at the bottom of the depression. The projection was left
after the bowl "preform" or "blank" was chiseled from the parent
stone and snapped or wedged out.
Evidence of the quarrying
activities is also scattered around the outcrop. Massive amounts
of soapstone quarry debris mixed with discarded (or dropped) tools
covers a half acre or more. Evidence of caches of quarry tools is
also present, indicating that the quarry workers brought tools up
to the site and stored them for future use.
Test excavations were
conducted at the site in 1979 by Archaeology Branch [now the Office
of State Archaeology] staff and a report on the tests was published
in the North Carolina Archaeological Council Publications Series
[No. 19] in 1982. Since then, however, relic collectors have paid
many visits to the site, and have destroyed much of the evidence
of this unique and important type of archaeological resource. Efforts
are now being made to protect the site from further vandalism and
Reprinted by permission
from the NEWSLETTER of the Friends of North Carolina
Archaeology, Inc., Summer 1984, Volume 1, Number 1. © North
Carolina Archaeological Society 1984
to ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES