A Quartz Offering at a Milling Feature in the Colorado Desert

Susan M. Hector, Ph.D.

During a field check for a proposed utility pole replacement project in San Felipe Valley, the author found a large chunk of unmodified quartz wedged into a crack at a milling feature located at site CA-SDI-1089 (Figure 1). This site, WeNelsch, was occupied into the early 20th century, when the desert Kumeyaay villagers were forcefully removed to the Pala Indian Reservation (Quinn and Quinn 1965: 84-89; Schwaderer 2005).


Figure 1. Unmodified quartz wedged into a crack at a milling feature


Quartz is used throughout the world by religious practitioners such as shamans to represent and actualize power. In North America, native religion includes a belief that shamans can see what others are unable to see (VonWerlhof 1987:20). Their power of vision is often provided by a supernatural light that is provided by quartz and quartz crystals. Quartz crystals are present in shaman’s paraphernalia and are included in bags and pouches, and mounted on staffs and wands.

As described in Whitley et al. 1999, quartz has the actual power to create energy and light. When pressure is applied to quartz by rubbing or pecking, electricity is created and a visual flash or glow can be seen. This quality of the rock has been obvious to humans throughout prehistory, and in western North America broken quartz pieces are found near rock art, vision quest sites, and as trail markers (VonWerlhof 1987, 1988; Whitley, Simon, and Dorn 1999). The release of power as quartz is broken enhances the power of the rock art and vision quest.

At Sally’s Rockshelter, Whitley, Simon, and Dorn (1999:21) described pieces of unmodified quartz rock wedged into cracks around the petroglyph panel at the site, which is located in the Mohave Desert. They interpret these chunks as offerings made during a vision quest.

At SDI-1089, however, a quartz block was wedged into a crack in a bedrock outcrop containing milling features (Figure 2). The large piece of quartz did not appear to be modified in any way.


Figure 2. Bedrock milling features with quartz block (located above mortar hole)

The larger section of bedrock contains one deep mortar hole and several shallow basins. No cupule petroglyphs were noted on the outcrop; cupules are associated with access to power and are sometimes found in association with milling features (Hector 2009). Cupule petroglyphs were identified in another area of the site, where a large, cracked monolithic rock provides a literal passage with cupule boulders on both sides.

How then to explain a large block of unmodified quartz wedged into a milling feature? To the eye of the author, the block is intentionally placed, and not recently. This area is not accessible to the public, and no evidence of recent disturbance was noted. One explanation I can offer is that all activities, whether a vision quest or preparation of a meal, were regarded by the Kumeyaay with the same sense of spiritual connectivity. An offering of a large block of quartz could be viewed as an effective way to ensure maintenance of the sacred framework within which all activities are conducted, including food preparation.

Another perspective is that medicine was being prepared at this location.   Rather than preparation of mesquite or acorn meal, medicinal plants or objects could have been prepared in the mortar and basins. The presence of the quartz then would have enhanced the potency and power of the medicine.

References Cited

Hector, Susan M.

2009   Cupule Petroglyphs as Elements of the Cultural Landscape. Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 29(1): 68-76.

Quinn, Charles Russell and Elena Quinn (editors)

1965   The Last Eviction. Edward H. Davis and the Indians of the Southwest United States and Northwest Mexico. Downey, California.

Schwaderer, Rae

2005   The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of San Felipe Valley, San Diego County, California. Masters Thesis, Cultural Resources Management, Sonoma State University.

VonWerlhof, Jay

1987   Spirits of the Earth, Volume I – The North Desert. Imperial Valley College Museum, El Centro.

1988   Part Two: Trails in Eastern San Diego County and Imperial County: An Interim Report. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 24(1): 51-75.

Whitley, David S., Joseph M. Simon, and Ronald I. Dorn

1999   The Vision Quest in the Coso Range. American Indian Rock Art 25: 1-32. American Rock Art Research Association (ARARA), Phoenix, Arizona.

Whitley, David S., Ronald I. Dorn, Joseph M. Simon, Robert Rechtman, and Tamara K. Whitley

1999   Sally’s Rockshelter and the Archaeology of the Vision Quest. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 9: 221-247.


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