Novaculite Website Homepage

Novaculite Quarries: Polk County

Novaculite boulders and debris on a mountain ridge in Polk County.

Novaculite bedrock is exposed on the steep mountain ridges in the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas. Native Americans quarried novaculite from numerous ridge-top locations in Polk County. Later Arkansans prospected for novaculite, manganese, or other resources here. Many of these locations are now recorded as archeological sites.

Henderson State University student Kalyn Duggan records information at novaculite quarry 3PL770.

One novaculite quarry in Polk County, recorded as archeological site 3PL349, was the site of a mapping and testing project as part of the 1993 Arkansas Archeological Society Training Program. The team, led by Jerry Hilliard, created a scale map of the novaculite ridge crest, showing boulders, concentrations of novaculite chipping debris and sandstone hammers, and a possible quarry trench. They excavated two 1x1 meter square test units in an area of boulders and surface flakes. A large quantity of novaculite debris was collected from the 20 centimeters above battered novaculite bedrock.

Map of Novaculite Quarry 3PL349 showing locations of 1993 test excavation units A and B (from Hilliard 1999:Figure 22).

Over several years, Mary Beth Trubitt (Arkansas Archeological Survey), with Arkansas Archeological Society members and Henderson State University students, analyzed materials from that 3PL349 quarry excavation. Some naturally-broken novaculite pieces were found, weathered on all surfaces. The waste fragments left by quarrying and chipping by people in the past had relatively fresh breaks. Cortex or a weathered surface was present on about a third of the collection. Pieces of chipping debris (angular shatter, flakes, and flake fragments) were recorded as artifacts. Few cores, biface fragments, or tools were found in TU A and B.

Pieces of angular debris or shatter are commonly seen at novaculite quarry sites.

From Quarry to Workshop to Camp

The different stages of stone tool production – quarrying the raw material, initial testing by chipping, heat treatment, further thinning and reduction, and shaping the final tool – were done at different locations. Because by-products of stone tool manufacturing are durable, archeologists can track the process across the region by examining the kinds of novaculite artifacts found at different sites. What activities were done at quarries, at workshops, and at camps? In what form did Native Americans transport novaculite, and what was left behind?

The reduction of novaculite – from blocky pieces to finished tools – was done at different locations.

At the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s Henderson State University Research Station, we have developed a system that combines mass analysis of novaculite chipping debris with individual analysis of novaculite flakes. One step is size-sorting novaculite debitage from excavations. Patterns emerge from comparisons between different sites.

For example, at quarry site 3PL349, the majority of pieces of novaculite chipping debris are larger than ½” in size. By weight, the debris caught in the 1” geological sieve makes up the bulk, about 70% of the overall weight. Comparisons between sites show that the size distribution of novaculite chipping debris changes from one site type to another. As novaculite was carried further from the quarry, it was chipped and reduced in size. Most of the chipping debris left on quarries was large, but debris at workshops and residential sites was smaller in size and lighter in weight.

Comparisons of novaculite chipping debris size profiles from three different sites.

Protecting Significant Historic Places

Archeological sites on federal and Indian lands are protected by federal laws. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act sets penalties for unauthorized digging at or damaging sites on public lands or removing artifacts from these historic places. It also sets up procedures for permitting qualified professional archeologists to conduct research at sites on public lands. State laws protect archeological sites on state-owned lands in Arkansas as well.

Please help to preserve these large and significant archeological sites. The novaculite quarry pits and tools left behind can tell us the unwritten history of this ancient industry. These sites are part of America’s heritage!

Site visits to photograph novaculite quarries as part of this website project have been made with permission from the Ouachita National Forest, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas State Parks, and individual property owners.

A novaculite boulder with undercut feature at 3PL770 (scale is 1 meter).

Comparative Collection

For photographs and descriptions of raw material samples from Polk County, select a site below or go to the Comparative Collection page.

Select a site:

Read more about archeological research on Polk County quarries and analysis of novaculite tool production:

Andrefsky, William, Jr., editor (2001) Lithic Debitage: Context, Form, Meaning. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.

Bradbury, A. P. and P. J. Carr (2004) Combining Aggregate and Individual Methods of Flake Debris Analysis: Aggregate Trend Analysis. North American Archaeologist 25(1):65-90.

Etchieson, Meeks and Mary Beth Trubitt (2013) Taking it to the River: Arkansas Novaculite Quarrying and Archaic Period Tool Production. North American Archaeologist 34(4):387-407.

Hilliard, Jerry (1999) A Preliminary Report on 3PL349, a Novaculite Quarry Site. The Arkansas Archeologist 38:22-24.

Trubitt, Mary Beth (2007) The Organization of Novaculite Tool Production: Quarry-Workshop Debitage Comparisons. Caddo Archeology Journal 16:71-89.

Trubitt, Mary Beth D., Anne S. Dowd, and Meeks Etchieson (2013) Multiscalar Analysis of Quarries. The Quarry (e-newsletter of the Society for American Archaeology’s Prehistoric Quarries & Early Mines Interest Group) 10:30-43.

Trubitt, Mary Beth, Thomas Green, and Ann Early (2004) A Research Design for Investigating Novaculite Quarry Sites in the Ouachita Mountains. The Arkansas Archeologist 43:17-62.


Suggested citation format for this website:

     Arkansas Archeological Survey 2016 "Arkansas Novaculite: A Virtual Comparative Collection." (accessed January 15, 2016).

We welcome comments and feedback from you! For further information on this website, please contact Mary Beth Trubitt, Arkansas Archeological Survey,


National Endowment for the Humanities Logo Arkansas Humanities Council Logo

This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Arkansas Archeological Survey: A Division of the University of Arkansas System

Copyright 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 Arkansas Archeological Survey
A Division of the University of Arkansas System

2475 North Hatch Avenue
Fayetteville, AR 72704


Last Updated: April 13rd, 2021