Dr. Charles N. Gould (photo: Oklahoma Historical Society)
A Note about Alibates Dolomite
by Bob Wishoff

Nestled in the midst of the Texas Panhandle is a huge quarry area where Alibates chert, a unique form of silicified or agatized dolomite, was mined. All that is left of the quarrying activities are shallow depressions that cover over a thousand acres. Outcrops of chert cap the bluff; there are occasional boulders of red and white weathered chert, and millions of chips and chunks of multi-colored chert debitage cover the ground. First mentioned by Lt. J. W. Abert in 1845, it remained for Charles N. Gould in 1907 to name the white dolomite “Alibates” after nearby Alibates Creek (Carroll 1941:64-69; Gould 1907:9). However, in a speech dedicating an official Texas State Historical Marker in honor of Gould, H. E. Hertner claimed that the name of Alibates flint was a corruption of the name of “Allen Bates”, a local rancher’s son on whose land Alibates Creek is located (Banks 1990:91; Bowers 1975:5). Gould (1907:9-11) described the Alibates chert as comprising an upper bed of dolomite, followed by a red-bed sequence, followed by a lower dolomite bed, and compared it to Day Creek Oklahoma dolomite.

Alibates dolomite knapped debitage as seen at Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument, Fritch, Texas.

Larry D. Banks (1990:91) wrote that “Alibates ‘flints’ are possibly more widely reported in archaeological literature than any other single lithic resource”. Banks (1990:91) also noted “that the Alibates materials probably have received greater distribution temporally and culturally on a geographic basis than any other single chert type.” Nonetheless, due to physical variability in physical characteristics, there is no agreed upon description of Alibates chert (Banks 1990; Bowers 1975). In Roger Lee Bowers’ intensive study of Alibates chert, he suggested an origin for most of the chert, attributing chertification of the dolomite to secondary replacement from the silica-rich Ogallala as a by-product of the calcification process (Bowers 1975:6). Prevailing thinking about the Alibates quarries was that they were turned into a “blank-making” industry by the local Indians, and that those blanks were traded throughout the Southwest, eventually reaching “such places as the Pacific Coast and Minnesota”, but Bowers posited that “only a positive method of identifying the chert [would] increase or decrease the geographic range of trading” (Bowers 1975:7).


Banks, Larry D. 1990 From Mountain Peaks to Alligator Stomachs: A Review of Lithic Resources in the Trans-Mississippi South, the Southern Plains, and Adjacent Southwest. Oklahoma Anthropological Society, Memoir #4.

Bowers, Roger Lee 1975 Petrography and Petrogenesis of the Alibates Dolomite and Chert (Permian), Northern Panhandle of Texas. University of Texas, Arlington, unpublished Master’s thesis.

Carroll, H. Bailey 1941 Guadal P’A The Journal of Lieutenant J. W. Abert, from Bent’s Fort to St. Louis in 1845. The Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, Canyon, TX.

Gould, Charles N. 1907 The Geology and Water Sources of the Western Portion of the Panhandle of Texas, Water-Supply and Irrigation Paper No. 191. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

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