Category Archives: North America

America’s Parks

Two scathing reviews of the National Park Service’s approach to its historical resources were published recently:

Imperiled Promise: The State of History in the National Park Service, The Organization of American Historians

The State of America’s National Parks, The National Parks Conservation Association

In local news:

Source: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

In case you didn’t know, 70 California state parks are slated for impending closure. One Huffington Post article posits that this closure plan somehow forgot to include the treatment, packing, transportation and storage, of the thousands of artifacts these parks curate, including the two artifacts depicted here.

Source: Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Update: In response to the park closures, reduction in funding to the NPS and the state of cultural resources within parks in general, a select number of universities are offering a new certificate program entitled Leadership for Public Lands and Cultural Heritage!

The Leadership for Public Lands and Cultural Heritage Program began in January, 2011 with a class of 14 students. These students will be graduating from the program in May, 2012. Next year’s program is currently on hold, but hopefully it will start up again in the future.

The program’s curriculum was created by the universities involved in conjunction with the  National Park Service, the Center for Park Management and the National Park Conservation Association.  At least one of the professors was previously (or is currently) employed by the National Park Service. The majority of the students are also currently National Park Service employees. The program is taught mostly online, with only 1 week required in residence, allowing students to work and pursue the degree/certificate at the same time.

Thanks to Matt Wolf from the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands Support for answering all my questions!

Another Update (4/26/2012):  George McKale and The Olompali People are trying to save Olompali State Historic Park, which is just north of San Francisco.  The park hosts 6 Coast Miwok archaeological sites, some of which date back 8000 years!  The park is also home to some great hiking and a recreated Coast Miwok village.

Source: The Olompali People

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The Solutrean Solution & North American Sloth

Another proponent of the Solutrean Solution.

Does anyone have any thoughts on Bruce Bradley and Dennis Stanford’s new book?  I’m not a fan of the Solutrean Solution, but if the evidence is there, I’m willing to listen. Do they have the evidence to back up this wild claim?

As well as hunting sloths in North America.

Now this is cool.

Source: Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Also- check out this take on the new evidence for sloth-hunting.

Here’s a hint as to the topic:

Source: horsetalk.co.nz

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New Lessons in Archaeology

As promised, yet a long time coming, Things I have Learned about bedrock mortars:

A bed rock mortar is a form of groundstone, used to grind things up (acorns, mice, paint, etc…).  Want to see a modern day version of this? Here is the one I have in my kitchen:

Source: My Kitchen

The key here is the interior- round and smooth, with a little exotic pepper residue from the last time I used it- gross. Back to mortars.

Source: waymarking.com

That’s a bedrock mortar. The interior kinda looks the same doesn’t it?  Do you see how it’s got horizontal rings in it? That’s one of the tells.

Here are a bunch of BRMs all on one rock together:

Source: archaeofieldtech

These were on the bank of a small stream. That’s another tell! That they’re near water. Most prehistoric sites are near water, but you knew that.

Source: archaeofieldtech

The above is NOT a bedrock mortar. It is also NOT a great photo. My apologies, I was hacking through low-bush-like oak trees at the time. And also, it was very hot.  This non-mortar is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, just outside Sequoia National Forest.

Source: USGS (disregard "Storm Track" OR- click and find out what they're talking about)

These non-mortars are formed by erosion.  Water pools in the lowest area on a granite boulder. This water then seeps down into the rock, freezes and causes the rock to break apart.  Also- these can be formed by aeolian (vocab word of the day) erosion- meaning WIND. For some reason, these non-mortars are called “solution cups” – that’s just for all you terminology geeks. I don’t know why they’re called that. I even asked around. No one knows. If you know, please tell me!

How do you tell a solution cup/non-mortar from a bedrock mortar? EASY.

1: Is it smooth anywhere? If your answer is YES, then it’s a bedrock mortar (in the cultural sense).

2: Does it have weird cracks? If your answer is YES, then it’s NOT a bedrock mortar (sorry!).

3: Is it perfectly round? If your answer is YES, then it could be EITHER (I tricked you. HAHA).

4: Is there other CULTURAL material nearby? If your answer is NO, then it could be EITHER (tricked you again).

That was not particularly helpful. Here is how I determine whether or not a nice round hole in some bedrock is cultural or not:

a) Feel. If it’s super smooth, it is probably cultural. This is the easiest way to tell. However, even if it’s not super smooth, it could still be cultural. Erosion could have acted on an already present mortar to make it less smooth.

b) Surroundings. If there’s cultural material on the ground or nearby, it’s more likely that you have a cultural feature.

c) Appearance. This is the least useful determinant. Generally I use this to tell from a distance (within my 10m transect) whether or not a hole in a chunk of bedrock is cultural. If it’s not super round, or if it is sitting on top of a huge crack, it’s probably not cultural. Still worth checking out though, because you NEVER KNOW!

Do you have any other ways of telling whether or not a nice looking cup in a slab of bedrock is cultural? Comment or Email me!

Rock art is going to have to wait. This post is long enough! If you made it this far- gold star for you! No seriously- email me. I’ll email you a gold star.

Bonus material:

So, I went to that flintknapping course I told you about this past Sunday- more about that soon. But, I thought I would share with you a revelation I had today while practicing flintknapping.

Source: archaeofieldtech

That’s what I made. More importantly, take a look at the flakes around it. Can’t see them? Take a gander at this photo:

Source: archaeofieldtech

My Revelation: Most of those flakes would fall right through my 1/8th inch screen. This is IMPORTANT because today I was screening what I knew MUST be a lithic reduction site, and I wasn’t getting that much stuff. Just some bland looking rhyolite pressure flakes.

Source: Uwharries Lithics Research Conference

I was very upset, I thought, “My eyes are going! It’s too hot for me to focus! I need water! Is it lunchtime yet?”

Back to the point of this bonus material, the Revelation.  There are probably more flakes in the unit than I will ever see, no matter how good my eyes are, because they are FALLING THROUGH THE SCREEN!

I wish I had a photo of the screen to show you… Oh well- here is someone else’s 1/8th in. screen:

Source: Dr. Emslie's Antartic Blog

Now, those of you who are not archaeologists might just be like, “Well why don’t you get screens with smaller holes?” That would be impractical due to the amount of dirt we have to go through in one day. If the screen was smaller, say 1/16th inch, it would take a lot longer for all that dirt to go through the screen.

For those of you who are archaeologists, and also flintknappers, or maybe had a lithics class at some point, you probably already knew this. WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?

Finally: I recommend that you all learn to flintknap, or at least try it, sometime soon. It’s fun! It’s painful. It’s amazing what you can create! Look forward to the post about the flintknapping course I took.

Oh and, here’s some extra bonus material:

Source: archaeofieldtech

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Where Did the State Archaeologists Go?

In Utah, three archaeologists were laid off due to budget cuts. Kevin Jones (state archaeologist), Ron Rood (assistant state archaeologist & possibly the outreach liason), and Derinna Kopp (physical anthropologist) were let go from the Antiquities Staff of the Utah State History Department.

The cuts were made by the Utah Department of Community and Culture, apparently as a part of Mike Hansen’s Strategic Plan to make the Utah state government more efficient. The Salt Lake Tribune states that these 3 positions were cut as part of a “‘menu’ of $550 million of possible budget cuts, including $154,300 in potential savings by cutting two positions in the historic preservation program.” — Loomis & Fahys

Source: Utah State History Dept. -- Archaeology Division

According to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune, these archaeologists were let go because they opposed the construction of a train station on top of an ancient (3000 year-old) archaeological site. The article later says that this issue was peacefully resolved, “But [Gov.] Herbert, a former president of the Utah Association of Realtors, won the praise of preservationists and tribes by ultimately signing a deal preserving 252 acres of the ancient American Indian village through a conservation easement granted to the nonprofit Utah Open Lands. UTA agreed to build its station and accompanying development farther north.”– Brandon Loomis & Judy Fahys, Salt Lake Tribune.  I recommend reading the comments section for some interesting perspectives on this issue, there are 342 of them.

In order to try to figure this out a little better, I visited the website for the Division of Utah State History. The archaeology staff is listed in two different places with two different lists, one list being much more populated than the other. In either case, the article states that only 2 people are left on the Antiquities staff, but my calculations put that number at at least 3 and possibly 7.

Being me (not a state archaeologist, as well as inquisitive, nosy, and skeptical), I wanted to try to figure out what all of these archaeologists in the Division of History do from the website. Alas, they did not have a nice transparent chart showing the organization of their division. I suppose I will have to find out some other way. Do you know how the Division of Utah State History works? If so, please let me know!

Update to the story: Controversy Didn’t Get the Archaeologists Fired – another Salt Lake Tribune article. Again- I recommend reading the comments section.

“JudgeGraft” writes about what the state archaeologists do, and it’s similar what John says in the comments here. Thanks John for explaining!

“The three archaeologists [Gov. Herbert] fired are the ones tasked with a primary concern for prehistoric resources. They are the ones that establish the standards for the work of archaeological professionals in the state. They assess the qualifications of permit applicants and assure their proposals are scientifically sound. They provide the last quality control check for thousands of reports coming in from around the state. They are the only ones with a broad, statewide perspective. They also are the ones who develop school programs so our kids can appreciate our heritage resources.” –JudgeGraft in Comments on Controversy Didn’t Get the Archaeologists Fired

Graft adds at the end, “Besides, how uncool is to fire a State Archaeologist named, Dr. Jones?”

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It’s an Oil Field!

Source: A Fellow Archaeologist, Melinda or Jo (I'm not sure!)

Recently I headed out to do some survey in the San Joaquin Valley, the fruit basket of the United States.  The valley also happens to be a prime location for oil, as you can see above. Those are brand-spankin’ new oil pumping units.

You may ask, “Why were you in an oil field?”

The short answer: Section 106 and CEQA and many other regulations that the United States and California have implemented in order to protect their cultural (historic and prehistoric) resources. That was not such a short answer… Here is a book to read all about Section 106 and those other laws. It’s written by Tom King who is an amazing writer.

I guess a shorter answer would be: I was looking for historic and/or prehistoric artifacts.  There were none. Often, in CRM, you don’t find anything, but we always have to look!

Source: archaeofieldtech

I took a photo of the ground for you- that’s where you look for artifacts. And here is a classic survey pose:

Source: archaeofieldtech

Walking with your head down. Staring at the ground, looking for interesting things. There was a ton of chert sitting on the ground out there, sort of interesting. It was non-cultural, and not very good quality- not knappable.

Source: paleoplanet

The darker brown points in this image are chert (the internet failed me- this is the best photo I came up with).  In this image they call this stuff agate. I’ve heard it called both chert and agate- they’re both classified as crypto-crystalline silicates (CCS). I will have to find the chert I saw and get some photos of it.

One final note about surveying in oil fields: you need an H2S monitor, otherwise you might DIE! Archaeology can be a dangerous business.

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