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STANTON — Long before North Dakota's coal and oil gleamed in a landman’s eye, Plains Indians were mining the mother lode of a different resource.

Knife River flint, a dark, hard rock used to make weapons and tools for more than 10,000 years, was quarried from a site near Dunn Center. In those days, it was more valuable than gold.

Parts of the quarry are so intact that the anvil stones Plains Indians used to break up large flint chunks are still there by the ancient digging pits.

Today, much of that ages-old quarry is on land owned by Allen and Gail Lynch. For decades, the Lynches have preserved this archaeological treasure — lately holding off oil wells — and shared it with researchers and the public.

After years of effort by the Lynches and the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site staff, the quarry will finally get its historical due.

What is now officially the Lynch Knife River Flint Quarry will be dedicated on Saturday as a National Historic Landmark under the National Park Service.

The event is at 2 p.m. MDT at the quarry, just off Highway 200 east of Dunn Center. Signs will mark the turn. The public is invited.

The quarry always has had a close relationship to the Knife River Indian Villages down the road near Stanton.

It preserves the homelands of the Mandan and Hidatsa, whose villages along the Knife and Missouri rivers were an important trading hub. Knife River flint was a valuable trading commodity for them and has been found throughout most of North America, spread along a network of indigenous people.

The Mandan and Hidatsa traveled 50 miles to the quarry, camped along Spring Creek near where the Lynches' farm is today, and used crude tools to uncover the flint that they transported back to their villages and refined into arrowheads and other implements.

Craig Hanson, chief interpreter at Knife River villages, said the grounds there hold evidence of the prevalence of the flint's use.

"In the Lower Hidatsa site (one village area) archaeologists estimate there are well over 150,000 pounds of flint still there from them making tools," Hanson said. "The flint is a big part of our story. We can’t talk about that culture without talking about flint."

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He said the flint from the Lynch quarry was prized for its purity and consistency.

Village site superintendent Wendy Ross said there are no plans to ramp up the landmark into a National Park.

"It's enough to have it designated. We're just thrilled to have it recognized as an important resource that's so intertwined with our story," she said.

"It is an amazing story. It was like a shopping center, a Walmart for flint that was manufactured into very desirable goods," she said.

There are five other National Historic Landmarks in North Dakota — the Big Hidatsa Village at Knife River; Fort Union Trading Post at Buford; Frederick A. and Sophia Bagg Bonanza Farm near Mooreton; Huff Archaeological Site near Huff; and Menoken Indian Village Site at Bismarck.

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Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

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