National Register of Historic Places

Obsidian Cliff National Historic Landmark

Yellowstone National Park

Date Added to Register

Wednesday, June 19, 1996

Smithsonian Number


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Obsidian Cliff, located in northwestern Yellowstone National Park, is a geologically distinctive natural feature that has been used as a raw material source for high quality obsidian tools for at least 11,000 years. The Obsidian Cliff lithic source area has been regarded as a prominent prehistoric quarry since its recognition in the 19th century. The volcanic glass was quarried and made into many types of tools, f rom simple flake tools used to cut hides or butcher animals for meat, to arrowheads or spear points, to large ceremonial artifacts. Obsidian Cliff obsidian can be found in archeological sites from the Middle Rockies into western Canada, across the Great Plains into the Midwest, as well as the Columbia Plateau, and possibly the Great Basin. By using trace-and bulk-element geochemistry techniques, archaeologists can trace obsidian artifacts to known geological sources. Obsidian from Obsidian Cliff was imported and utilized for ceremonial purposes by peoples of the Hopewell Culture in the Ohio River valley from around 1,600 to 2,200 years ago.

Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources