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Flint Ridge is one of Ohio's most historical sites with old quarry pits

December 2, 2013

Water-filled pits along the ridge top in east-central Ohio mark old flint quarries used for the last 11,000 years by ancient Indians. The pits are the main attraction at Flint Ridge State Memorial in Licking County

BROWNSVILLE, Ohio — Flint Ridge is one of the most historically significant spots in Ohio.

But it’s hard to be impressed by what you’re seeing: a wooded ridge in southeast Licking County.

The quarries where ancient Indians extracted flint for tools and weapons are little more than water-filled pits that line the trails at 533-acre Flint Ridge State Memorial in Hopewell Township near Newark. Scores of pits are evidence of where the Indians quarried the precious and brittle blue-gray rock on periodic visits.

Flint Ridge includes a small museum that was built over an old pit and provides information on the digging and shaping of flint. The area is managed by the Ohio Historical Society and its partner, the Licking Valley Heritage Society

Flint Ridge is known for the quantity and the quality of the flint that was quarried here. Still, it takes a dose of imagination to comprehend its archaeological significance.

The Indians began quarrying the flint starting 11,000 years ago. They needed the razor-sharp, brightly colored rock for tools, weapons, ceremonial objects and jewelry. Flint Ridge offered high-quality stone in an array of colors: pink, gray, white, black and copper. The most common is white with gray streaks, known as Vanport flint. The Ohio flint has a high quartz content and those crystals shine when polished.

The 20-mile-long ridge with its irregular deposits between Newark and Zanesville became the center of the prehistoric economy in the eastern United States. Indian trails led there.

Hundreds of pits lined the main eight-mile-long vein of flint in Licking and Muskingum counties. It has been called the "Great Indian Quarry of Ohio." The flint deposits extend about three miles north to south and nine miles east to west. They generally cover five to six square miles or about 2,500 acres.

The Ohio flint was traded by Hopewell Indians (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.) for copper from Upper Michigan, mica from the Carolinas and shells from the Gulf of Mexico. Flint Ridge flint has been found as far away as Kansas City, Louisiana and along the East Coast.

The Indians found the rock outcroppings at the surface and then dug through dirt and limestone to reach the flint. It was difficult work. The Hopewells did most of the quarrying.

The flint was found in layers from 1 to 10 feet thick. The flint at the surface was not used, as it was too brittle and cracked easily after being exposed to the elements.

The Indians used large hammerstones or mauls made of granite or quartzite, weighing up to 25 pounds, to drive wood or bone wedges into natural cracks in the flint. The stone was quarried into smaller blocks that were easy to transport.

Near the quarries, skilled workers using small antler hammers and other tools pressed and chipped the flint into leaf-shaped pieces from 3 to 12 inches long and 2 to 5 inches wide. These blades with rounded or square bases could then be transported to faraway villages or turned into drills, knives, scrapers and arrow and spear points in work areas near the quarries.

The flint was 300 million years old. The silica needed to form it came from the skeletons of sponges that were abundant when a warm shallow sea covered what is now Ohio. Chemical impurities gave the flint its distinctive coloring. About 200 million years ago, the land was uplifted. Erosion washed away the soft surface layers to expose the flint.

Indians also quarried flint at smaller deposits in Vinton, Jackson, Coshocton, Hocking and Perry counties in Ohio.

The first white pioneers in Ohio made use of Flint Ridge’s rock for buhr stones or millstones at water-powered mills on the Ohio frontier. Smaller pieces were used to hand-grind corn and wheat at log cabins. The rock was also used to build the National Road in Licking and Muskingum counties.

You can get a good look at the old pits by hiking the short trails at Flint Ridge.

The Quarry Trail begins at the museum and runs about one-third of a mile. It is rough and muddy in spots, running near the deepest and largest pits.

The Creek Trail is just more than 1 mile in length. It is hilly and muddy. There is also a quarter-mile-long hard-surfaced trail for handicapped access. The Bear Hollow Trail is across Flint Ridge Road from the main state memorial area.

Along the trails, you will see outcroppings, boulders and bits of flint. The evidence is everywhere, especially piles of chips. There are impressive flint outcroppings off the Creek Trail and not far from the picnic area.

The pits are filled with leaves and water, because a layer of brown shale under the flint keeps the water from sinking into the soil. Some are up to 60 feet deep and 60 feet across. They’re scattered along the hummocky and heavily wooded ridge.

The museum offers a look at one pit, plus displays of flint tools, weapons, jewelry and flint geology.

Taking away any flint is prohibited, although you can purchase pieces in the museum store. Flint is Ohio’s state stone.

The Ohio Historical Society established the memorial in 1933. The museum was added in 1968.

Flint Ridge is off Brownsville Road (County Road 668) at Flint Ridge Road (County Road 312) north of Interstate 70 and south of Newark.

Park hours are dawn to dusk daily. The museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays from May to October. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for students. Children 5 and under are free.

For more information, contact Flint Ridge State Memorial, 740-787-2476 or 800-283-8707, www.ohiohistory.org.

If you want another prehistoric stop, the Newark Earthworks are only 12 miles away. Another Ohio Historical Society site, they are three separate Hopewell Indian mounds and earthworks. For information, check with the Newark Earthworks State Memorial, 740-344-1919 or 800-600-7178, www.ohiohistory.org.

Newark is also home to the national Heisey Glass Museum with glassware produced by the A.H. Heisey & Co. between 1896 and 1957. The city’s Hudson Historic District and downtown historic district are on the National Register of Historic Places. There are several house museums in Newark.

You can also get information from the Licking County Convention & Visitors Bureau at 740-345-8224 or 800-589-8224, www.escapetolickingcounty.com.
 





 


Associated Press