Curious Objects




Amethyst is a purple variety of the mineral quartz. Quartz is formed in many colors but the presence of iron (Fe) makes quartz, which is usually translucent white, purple. This sample of amethyst represents a typical, natural form of the mineral.

Throughout the excavation of the Mackenzie I archeological site, many quartz and amethyst stone tools have been uncovered and catalogued. These stone tools were used by Paleo-Indians in the Thunder Bay area over 9000 years ago for day to day uses. A research project at Lakehead University seeks to understand what tools are made of quartz, what specific material were these tools used on, and is there evidence of quartz being imported to the sites? We will be using methods developed by Dr. Carney Matheson to try to identify what material these tools were used on based on any residue left on the tools. In addition, we will be trying to identify use-wear patterns on the tools to assist in the interpretation. This process is known to be difficult due to the highly reflective surface of quartz and amethyst, but is not impossible. Finally, we hope to identify whether the material is local or imported into the area.

You asked, we answered!

Who uses this object?

Historically used by Native Canadians as stone tools.

Where is it used?

In the Lake Superior region near Thunder Bay where it is traditionally found.

What does it do and why is that helpful/important in this field of study? 

The study of amethyst’s use as stone tools allows us to better understand the habits of the native peoples of this land and the conditions in which they lived.

How does the research related to this object affect me or why is it important to the public?

This research is important to the public as understanding the history of the people who occupied this land is an important step in preserving their heritage.

How is this object used in your university?

My specific research questions ask what tools are made of quartz, what specific material were these tools on, and is there evidence of quartz being imported to the sites?

Was this object invented in Ontario, or has its use helped with an Ontario research breakthrough?

Paleo-Indian sites in the Thunder Bay region are relatively new discoveries and the finding of quartz and amethyst stone tools is quite interesting. This study will further research on the subject and provide a baseline understanding of the use of such tools.

Why is this relevant to all Ontarians?

Amethyst and quartz are common minerals to Ontario (Amethyst is Ontario’s gemstone). It is important to understand how Native Canadians lived and specifically which materials they used as tools in everyday life.

Interesting facts, statistics or stories about this object?

Presently, quartz is considered an expedient tool material, which means that it is used as a “last resort” due to its perceived difficulty to knap and because it is the only material nearby