Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Applied Archaeology



First Reader/Committee Chair

Des Lauriers, Matthew


There is a significant lack of publication, synthesis, and analysis of existing Late Prehistoric obsidian artifact sourcing data in the western Mojave Desert. However, a wealth of such data exists, especially in non-published archaeological reports produced mainly by cultural resources management firms. The purpose of this study was to test the validity of two regions which are divided roughly by the Mojave River and which are based on Sutton’s (1989) interaction sphere model. The Northwestern Region occupies the portion of the Mojave Desert to the north and west of the Mojave River, while the Eastern Region makes up the area to the south and east of the River. It was claimed that groups in these two regions relied on different obsidian sources. Sutton asserted that in the Northwestern Region, groups relied almost exclusively on Coso obsidian, which comes from the Coso Volcanic Fields located on the Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake approximately 26 miles north of Ridgecrest. In the Eastern Region, Sutton claimed that the majority of culturally modified obsidian came from four sources (Bagdad, Umpire, Hole-in-the-wall, and Hackberry Mountains sources) which were located within that area.

Obsidian source data for the region was gathered via review and synthesis of the literature. This was used to learn what proportions of obsidian sources were utilized in the two regions. This data was then statistically analyzed using an independent samples t test to determine if any observed differences were significant rather than resulting from the vagaries of sampling.

The results indicated that the two regions were indeed statistically significantly different from one another. In the Northwestern Region a nearly exclusive reliance on Coso obsidian was identified and in the Eastern Region a nearly equal reliance on Eastern Source material and nonlocal source material was observed. Several implications of these results are discussed below.

A number of factors could have affected the frequencies of obsidian sources utilized. Cultural differences (i.e., differing linguistic affiliations) and historical factors (i.e., immigration of Takic people or diffusion of Takic language into the Eastern Region) may have led to political limitations having been placed on trade. Material quality and manufacturing needs may have affected preferences for certain sources. The abundance and availability of various obsidian sources may have influenced the observed frequencies. And the fact that the Coso obsidian trade network was long standing may have made it a more readily available and tradable option than others.

Finally, the material conveyance methods responsible for the observed distribution of obsidian are discussed. Groups inhabiting the Coso area within the Northwestern Region obtained Coso obsidian through direct access. The people of that region outside of the Coso area relied on trade and exchange. Those inhabiting the Eastern Region got Eastern Source material through direct access and/or embedded procurement and most nonlocal source material was obtained through trade and exchange.