2007 Nevada Field School

Week 2

In preparing for this summer's field work, I decided we would complete several small-scale projects that would put the finishing touches on research we have been conducting in eastern Nevada for a number of years. In particular, I wanted to evaluate several valleys neighboring ones we investigated previously to determine if they contain comparable records. Now, it might seem sensible to proceed in a systematic manner, making a reconnaissance of one valley, moving to another, and so on. But no. I have had ue bouncing all over the place. So, as a result, we've spent time in Newark Valley, Little Smoky Valley, Long Valley, and Jakes Valley, but never more than fifty miles from out camp. The students are, to a degree, bewildered by my approach, and each morning I hear a plaintive question: Tom, what are we doing today?

But at least some of the students, those who have taken my advanced analysis class, have a context for these studies, however scattered they appear. In the following description, Lisa Fontes describes two of our recent projects.

The Significance of Little Smoky Quarry
As I spend more time working in Nevada, I am able to draw more and more parallels between my field experience and my Hamilton archaeology classes. In one class, ARCH 325W, Analytic Methods in Archaeology, we conducted a series of labs based on stone tools from eastern Nevada. Our third lab examined source provenance data from a Paleoarchaic site in southern Jakes Valley. We found that many of the stone tools came from a geological source of dacite (a very fine-grained volcanic rock) in Little Smoky Valley, some 60 km away.

This Thursday we visited Little Smoky Quarry. The site is a large tool manufacture area that is littered with Paleoarchaic bifaces. Little Smoky Quarry would have been an important place 10,000 years ago since it was here that Paleoarchaic people collected stone to make a variety of tools. These groups followed complex settlement patterns that brought them to valleys throughout the central Great Basin. As they traveled, they searched for materials like obsidian, dacite, and chert, which they could use to manufacture the stone tools that were critical for the success of their hunting and gathering forays.

 Biface found in Little Smokey Quarry.
When they found a good source material, they would make bifacial tools (tools shaped by flaking both sides of the artifact). Biface manufacture served several purposes. First, it got rid of unwanted core material, which was excessively heavy and not useful. Next, the biface served as a source of smaller flakes from which other tools like scrapers and projectile points were made. Finally, the biface was made into a tool like a point. Biface manufacture was an economical way for Paleoarchaic people to carry the source material necessary for their lifestyle.

Little Smokey Quarry was not only significant for Paleoarchaic peoples, but also to those of us who had done analysis of artifacts from this source. When we arrived at the site we found many flakes, cortex chunks, and bifaces that were sometimes as large as our hands. It was interesting because we finally got to put the results of our lab together with the actual location from which the artifact came.

The Art of Survey
Each day we begin our journey with a drive on Highway 50, the "Loneliest Highway in America." Our travels vary in length, but are always accompanied by amusing Country music, the only music played on the local radio stations. We've traveled to several valleys in the region, including Jakes, Long, Newark, and Little Smoky valleys. While the roads we travel to the valleys are highways, the roads within the valleys that we navigate (more often than not-incorrectly) are little more than bumpy cattle paths. At times, we have even had to resort to pushing our vehicles through sandy ground to get out of a valley.

Surveying in Jakes Valley.
Once we reach our destination, we "mount up" and search for artifacts. When doing an informal survey, we meander around, flagging important artifacts (projectile points, scrapers, bifaces, etc.), which may be the subject of future analysis. In more formal situations we survey 250x250 meter quadrats. We stand at 10 meter intervals, known as stations, and walk in cardinal directions (N, E, S, W), in 25 meter segments. At each end of the survey line are people have GPS systems, used to keep the line straight. People with compasses also ensure that the survey line is parallel with a cardinal direction. If we find a particularly important artifact, such as a fluted point or a crescent, we will take a GPS reading of its location, and either flag or collect it. Survey is important because it allows archaeologists to locate sites, establish site density, and find awesome artifacts!

-Submitted by Professor of Anthropology Tom Jones