2007 Nevada Field School
Before the beginning of field school, I spent a few days at the Nevada State Museum studying the archaeological site files. I was searching, particularly, for records of Paleoarchaic sites south of our research area. I reasoned that such sites, resting as they do between east-central Nevada, where there are sources of volcanic toolstones, and major geologic sources of obsidian further south, might provide clues as to the spatial patterns of material movement and hence to patterns of human movement. After pouring-over the files for several days, I learned there had been little reconnaissance in the region and thus there was a dearth of recorded sites. And, adding to my disappointment, the only candidates for study were in Coal Valley. Thus far we've only toyed with desert conditions; Coal Valley is desert.
I explained that our two night visit to Coal Valley would test our outdoor skills; there would be no water except what we carried, precious few trees, lower elevations and higher temperatures, and relentless sun. On top of this, we had no clue as to where we would camp. The only candidate, a narrow canyon that I recollected from an earlier visit, might have to suffice.
We arrived mid-afternoon in Coal Valley (we spent the morning in Ely while our pick-up underwent some warranty repair). If there were concerns about our stay in Coal Valley, nobody mentioned them while we conducted reconnaissance. We began our search for a camp in the late afternoon, slowly making our way down a gravel road on the west side of the valley. We reached the fan emerging from the canyon I remembered and I found a narrow two-track to follow into the canyon. We proceeded for a couple of miles; the canyon was narrowing, the road was getting worse, and we had found no campsite. At this point I stopped my truck, got out, and declared we had reached out camping spot. Puzzlement and disappointment were the mildest reactions. The place was declared "unsuitable for camping; no doubt, there were scorpions and rattlesnakes everywhere." Still, though rather exposed, it was a good campsite--cliffs to scramble on, new cactus to identify, military jets breaking the sound barrier--with enough flat places, if you counted rock ledges, for everyone to sleep. Once above the walls of the canyon, the views into Coal Valley were spectacular, that is, if you like stark desert scenes.
Our field studies in Coal Valley would commence at 26Ln2072, a site that was discovered in the early 1970s when the whole of the Great Basin was slated to receive a mobile missiles system--the MX project. Small areas in many valleys were surveyed for archaeological sites in advance of construction. Thankfully, the system was never built--GPS and satellite surveillance would have made the system obsolete in short order. In any event, in one of the MX units, a survey team discovered a stone tool scatter containing broken bifacially-flaked tools. The site record they produced contained no information about cultural affiliation or age, but it did include sketches of some of the artifacts the team found. When I saw these I knew immediately that this was an early site; the discovers had missed the call, but to be fair, far less known about the early record 30 years ago.
We relocated the site, which was pretty much as described in the inventory. While some members of our group marked artifacts with surveyors pins, others expanded their reconnaissance of areas south of the site, which had not been investigated previously.
And they hit pay dirt--an enormous site, some 200 x 400 m, with several dense clusters of stone tools containing projectile points, scrapers, and crescents. Every diagnostic tool was consistent with an occupation age of 10,000 years or greater. I'll let Lisa Fontes give her impression of the site, but let me say in closing that, with the exception of the first site I ever found, this is the most amazing (an overused term this summer) Paleoarchaic site I've found (well, you see, I'm sharing credit for its discovery).
Home Sweet Home, or my Tent
I never realized how attached I would become to my tent. We have gone on two overnight trips since our arrival here. The first was to Blue Mass on the Utah-Nevada border for one night, while the second was to Coal Valley, for three days and two nights.
During our overnights, we all slept out under the stars in our sleeping bags. While the night sky was particularly beautiful, there are a few drawbacks to sleeping out in the elements. The first is the wind. Your tent protects you from the wind, so it does not blow across you face. The second is insects. Your tent keeps out all sorts of creatures, making for a much more relaxing sleep.
Basically, during our time here, our tents have become a home to us. They protect us from the elements and provide us with a little space that is or own, where we can go to get away from the hustle and bustle of camp. When we arrive back from the field each day, I can see my tent as we approach camp, giving just a little measure of security.
(I wonder if Rachel would feel quite this way if her tent had been one of those invaded by our neighbor, Morris, the rock squirrel. Think of a grey squirrel on steroids.)
We began our first day in Coal Valley trying to locate 26Ln2072 (the 2072nd site in Lincoln County, Nevada). After parking our vehicles along a dirt road in the center of the valley, we walked about a km to the east to get us in the vicinity of the site. Tom organized a simple reconnaissance. Groups of two moved in a radial patterns from our stopping point. I took several pin flags and moved off on a due east heading.
After about 30 minutes of searching and finding only isolated artifacts, I lost hope in finding anything cool. I decided to walk toward another group who, from a great distance, looked to have found something. That's when I looked down and saw a large chert cortex flake. I scuffed the ground, replaced the flake, and continued on my way. But as I looked around, I started to see all sorts of flakes--cortex, bifacial thinning, interior flakes, made out of dacite and obsidian, and many varieties of chert. While there were no artifacts that were early diagnostics, I did find and mark over 200 flakes. By noon I knew that I had stumbled upon a manufacture area. When we met for lunch I found out that other people had had similar successes. Victor and Mary Ann found a cluster of artifacts that include stemmed point fragments, bifaces, unifaces and scrapers. In addition, several people found crescents, a tool with an unknown purpose and also a rare find. The group finished the day exhausted from the heat, but surely invigorated by the site we had discovered.
The next day in Coal Valley was just as interesting. We performed an in-field analysis at 26Ln2072 using our new Trimble GPS receiver to record location and other data about each artifact. To use it the receiver one simply stands over the artifact's position and records location, material type, size, tool class, etc. While a couple of people assisted Tom with the analysis, the rest of us tried to determine the boundaries of the site we discovered the previous day. This was difficult because of the complex changes in artifact density over the area.
Our trip to Coal Valley was significant for several reasons. We found an awesome site that covers a large area. This site has a wide range of tool types and diversity of materials, including fine-grained volcanics, obsidian, and many types of chert. The site includes rare crescents, stemmed points, bifaces, scrapers, and probably thousands of flakes. We were able to collect artifact samples from 26Ln2072 and the surrounding area, which will be sourced. I hope these analyses will help us to understand the complex patterns of movement by Paleoarchaic people in this part of the Great Basin.