Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Christmas Bones

Ann Marie and I, as Site Stewards, monitor a basin shaped canyon that has 35 archaeological sites within its boundaries. One site is in a narrow, steep, bifurcated wash that had a vertical spring, many years ago –12,000 years to be exact. The spring drew animals for its refreshing water-- so unusual to find out here in the Sonoran desert.

We keep a close eye on this site as after the winter and monsoon rains bones may become exposed in the banks.

In late November after a heavy rain we trudged to the site and sure enough-bones! We could see a rib, part of a hip, a tiny mandible and other bone fragments we couldn’t identify.

We notified our Archaeologist contact, Bill G., of the Forest Service and he said he wanted to take the bones out. Not a big dig, just salvage what was basically on the surface. A date of 23 December was set.

On that December day, we were joined by the very notable, world renown, archaeologist Vance H. I was pleased.

Ann Marie and Bill worked in the bone area. I was sent down stream with Vance. I was disappointed not to be in on the “real” action.

My job was to help him ‘face down’ a wall in the wash. This means one is scraping and brushing the wall vertically centimeter by centimeter. This facing of the wall eventually shows the land layer by layer, known as stratigraphy.

Slowly the layers of land began to show but it was strange in that there were no rocks, not even a pebble! Just soft packed multicolored dirt layer upon showing various flooding events.

Suddenly, a pebble shot out from under my trowel.

I grabbed it and exclaimed, “This is the ugliest bit of chert I have ever seen.”

“Lets have a look”, said Vance. “That is not chert, it is Mastodon tusk!”

Mastodon! Wow!

Oh! I forgot to tell you the bones we were extracting were extinct horse and camel, mainly horse. This was the first sign of Mastodon.

Sure enough in another few inches my brush uncovered a tusk fragment about 6 inches long. It was so fragile and broken--it looked like a gigsaw puzzle-- we couldn’t take it out.

Guess I had gotten in on the 'real' action after all.

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