The geomythology of pipestone and its implications for geoscience education

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Wandersee, James۱; Clary, Renee۲
Holding Date 08 September 2008

Pipestone National Monument, in southwestern Minnesota, USA, was created by an act of the US Congress in 1937. Geologically, this site is described in the literature as characterized by a mantle of glacial drift less than 10 feet thick and consists dominantly of oxidized, light-olive-brown, clayey, calcareous till (unstratified glacial drift of clay, sand, and gravel) with scattered pebbles and cobbles of basalt and quartzite. The basalt fragments were transported from an exotic source to their present site by glacial processes, whereas the quartzite fragments were obviously derived from the underlying bedrock. All of the underlying bedrock is of early Proterozoic age, occurring between 1,770-1,600 million years ago. The 282-acre site is a tallgrass prairie area of geoarcheological, ethnological, and historical significance that preserves numerous Native Americans’ pipestone quarries. For the last 2000-3000 years, tribes from across the central region of North America have journeyed to this site. Today, they still travel long distances to continue the tradition of peace pipe making. The red stone is called "pipestone" (catlinite).
The new term "catlinite" (a type of metamorphosed mudstone) came into use after the American painter George Catlin visited these Minnesota quarries in 1835. Once quarried, catlinite is used by American Indian tribes to carve the ceremonial pipes which are an integral part of their religious and civic ceremonies. Methods of quarrying have changed little since the process began. Quarrying is a laborious task involving weeks of work with hand tools, including sledgehammers, pry bars, sharp chisels, and metal wedges. The experience of the quarrier is also a major legacy of the monument. Many of the quarry pits have walls of quartzite rubble which represent the labors of many generations of quarriers. Pipestone National Monument preserves the mile-long quarry line for continued use by members of all American Indian tribes via a permit application scheme. Visitors can observe this work in progress. A cultural center at the site helps to explain the history and art of peace pipe making by Native American tribes. Our research group visited the site numerous times, spoke with Native American quarriers and carvers, and conducted library and historical archive work investigating the geomythology of pipestone. We analyzed associated iconic images, our own field notes and photographs, as well as related primary historical documents and associated library literature. Subsequently, we explored the implications of American Indian pipestone geological myth for contemporary geoscience instruction, particularly related to geologic time, the principle of superposition, and global change. At IGC-33, we will present our findings and demonstrate that pipestone myth storylines have the potential to provide valuable foreshadowing information for, and add instructional value to, today’s geoscience lessons.