The Alibates flint quarries are located along the Canadian River in Moore and Potter counties in the central part of the Panhandle. Alibates flint is an agatized dolomite outcropping in the Alibates dolomite of the Permian Age on both the north and south sides of the Canadian River valley. The flint can be found in an area of about ten square miles. It is characterized by its distinctive coloring and banded patterns. Colors are typically maroon and white, but blue, brown, red, and yellow also occur. The flint was utilized for the manufacture of chipped-stone tools from the time that man first inhabited the Southern High Plains, beginning with the Clovis cultures of about 10,000 years ago, through the Archaic and Neo-Indian stages and into the Historic stage, perhaps until the 1800s. The working of Alibates flint could be characterized as one of the earliest and longest-lived industries in early America. Floyd V. Studer has been credited with the discovery of the quarries in modern times.
In the areas of the outcrops, the flint was quarried from pits dug into the bedrock. These are shallow, circular depressions located along many of the canyon rims. They frequently are about three meters in diameter and about half a meter in depth. When they were active quarries, they may have ranged in depth from about three to six feet. Over the years they have been partially or completely filled with blown dirt. The flint was also frequently gathered from the gravel located downstream from the outcrops. Around the circumference of each pit is a low mound of quarry debris. Intermixed are occasional large Alibates quarry blanks (quarry bifaces) and quartzite hammers. The smaller hammers were used to shape the quarry bifaces, and the larger ones were probably used to remove the flint from the pits. The larger hammers may have been used with wooden wedges to loosen the flint. No wedges, however, have been found.
None of the quarry pits has ever been scientifically excavated and reported. Little detailed study of the quarrying activities of any of the prehistoric inhabitants of the region has been done. It is believed, however, that the Paleo-Indian hunters, the Archaic hunter-gatherers, and the Woodland-Palo Duro complex hunter-gatherers most often used readily available sources of flint-gravels or actual outcrops-rather than excavating pits into the source. The later sedentary group, the Panhandle Aspect, probably is responsible for excavating most of the quarry pits. Archeological surveys in the nearby Canadian valley have recorded numerous Panhandle Aspect slabhouse villages, occupied during the period from about A.D. 1150 to 1450. A major activity at some of these villages appears to have been the reduction of the quarry bifaces into blades and tool blanks. This suggests that the quarriers' economy depended a great deal on the mining, preparation, and trading of the flint. Testing and excavations have been conducted at several of these sites, including the Alibates Ruins, PT-8, and the Ozier Site, although none of the studies presents detailed discussion or analysis of lithic technology as it relates to the quarrying activities. The Alibates blades and quarry bifaces were used as trade items by the Panhandle Aspect peoples and were traded for Puebloan ceramics from the Rio Grande valley in New Mexico, obsidian from the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico, catlinite from Minnesota, and olivella shell from the Pacific coast. Frequently caches of Alibates blades or quarry blanks are found, but only a few are reported and described in the literature.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument was set aside in 1965 to preserve the flint quarries. Located above the Canadian River in Potter County, it consists of 1,079 acres with hundreds of the quarries and several village sites. Guided tours are presented by park rangers during the summer months and at other times by reservation. In 1992, 3,419 people visited the area. Other quarries are located within Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, the Lubbock Lake National Historic and State Archeological Landmark, the Miami Site near the town of Miami and the Folsom Bison Kill and Blackwater Draw sites in northern New Mexico. The total number of quarry pits would undoubtedly be in the thousands. At some of the sites the remains of the flint have been found with the bones of the imperial mammoth. Most collections and records from the sites are at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum and the West Texas State University Archeological Research Laboratory, in Canyon, and also at the National Park Service Archeological Laboratory, Lake Meredith Recreation Area, in Fritch. Others are curated at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.