Thursday, July 29, 2010

Montana Night Skies

Mammoth Meadow was an EARTHWATCH archaeological dig outside of Dillon, Montana - way outside of town. People had come from all over the states to be involved in this paleoindian dig.

One quiet moonless night we were sitting around the campfire. A couple from a light polluted city in New Jersey sat looking at the sky.

They didn’t move. They seemed to be transfixed - mesmerized.

The darkness showed the stars in full splendor - twinkling diamonds on a backdrop of black velvet. Absolutely beautiful!

They couldn’t keep their eyes off the sky.

They were schoolteachers; he taught the 5th grade, she the 4th grade.

Finally, he broke the silence saying,

“Look at that Momma. We teach it but we have never seen it!”

Monday, July 26, 2010


Arrowheads or projectile points, as archaeologist call them, are truly wonderful finds.

The projectile point is diagnostic as to culture and time frame in prehistory. For example: Clovis culture (circa 12,500-12,900 calendar years before the present) made (knapped) points a certain way that did not carry into another time frame.

Four of us were in our usual survey mode about 5 meters apart, walking the transects of our survey area.

Bob called out, “Point! And another!”

I, too, called out, “Point. In fact I have several!”

Michelle and Valerie dropped their backpacks and came to our spot.

We had five projectile points!

We did the usual plotting of each artifact and then the bagging, tagging and mapping.

This all took a bit of time during which we also oh’d and ah’d over each point.

Finally, we were ready to restart the survey.

Michelle and Valerie went to their spots, picked up their back packs and called out,

“We have points under the packs!” They had two more!

We think we have had a super day when someone finds one point, but seven?

Surely, it was a bad day for some poor archaic hunter who had lost all these well knapped points.

But, what a wonderful morning for us about 6,000 years later!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Momma Calls

I had been invited to join an excavation at a Folsom site, The Black Mountain Site, elevation 10,600 feet, outside Creede, Colorado. Pegi J. of the Smithsonian Institution, the Principle Investigator, planned to do her PhD dissertation on this site.

A cowboy rode into our dig site and asked Pegi to keep all “dig dogs” in camp the next day as he and others were moving 200 head of cattle through the field below us.

“Dogs could bother the cattle or get injured,” he said.

The dig was on a narrow ridge above a fast moving Creek. The land below the dig to the east was a flat open field and contained the headwaters for the Rio Grande River we were told.

The day after the herd moved through I heard the awful, plaintive bellow of a cow. She was about 200 feet from where I was digging and though I was in a huge ‘weather-port’ I could hear-sense her distress.

She stayed in one spot and bellowed constantly for 3 days. I dug and worried.

I saw a cowboy riding by her going down the slope towards the Creek to the north of the data recovery area. I ran down to him and I asked him about the cow and her awful, constant bellowing.

“She is calling to her calf,” he told me.

The calf nearly drowned in the fast moving Creek they had forded on their way to greener pastures.

The cowboy had been going to the calf daily to medicate it.

“They get pneumonia especially at this altitude, you know,” he explained.

He thought the calf was going to be ok.

The next day I saw the cowboy coming up from the Creek with the calf slung over the front of the saddle.

The cowboy got out of saddle, lifted the calf down and slowly walked a very shaky calf to momma.

Momma nudged and licked the calf; it nursed a bit; then they turned and silently started a slow, unsteady trek across the field toward the rest of the herd.

I do believe the sound of silence was an indication of pure joy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010


We were surveying a finger ridge in the San Pedro Valley, four of us, in the usual survey mode. It was about 10 minutes before we were to stop for the day and return to the car.

I had a rock wall!

I called to my crewmates, “Hey come see this!”

No response. I call again. Nothing.

I turned to go to the ridge edge to find my crew and I stumbled onto another rock wall.

At the edge of the ridge and far below me I saw my crew walking down the dirt road towards the car.

They had abandoned me!

“Hey! I yelled to them. “I have something.”

One yelled back to me, “Do we need to come back up?”

“Yes.” I shouted back.

Disgusted, they returned.

The crew chief looked at the rock walls and determined them to be a reservoir-not much of anything.

Weeks later Alan D. asked me to be on his crew, as he wanted to investigate the rock walls I found.

He determined them to be a dried laid masonry ballcourt, Hohokam culture 800-1000AD, the only one found to date in southeast Arizona. All ballcourts to date have been of dirt bermed style.

This ballcourt has been named for me.

Not a bad ending for me, the product of abandonment!

Monday, July 19, 2010


The Sierra Ancha Cliff Dwelling archaeological project with EARTHWATCH participants was to go into to a second year October session.

The year before we had a cook but what a pitiful cook. Food was nourishing but tasteless and without imagination. To give you an idea about the cook’s attitude-she had a sickly, listless dog that was fed a vegetarian diet only-no meat allowed-no treats. There had been many complaints about our meals.

This year we were to have a new cook. I was to be the camp manager for the month long session and had recommended Dino A. to the Principal Investigator (PI) as a cook with vast experience but not 'in the field' under trying primitive circumstances.

Dino was contacted. He agreed and was hired!

Amaterra, a group of professors who specialized in archaeological camping infrastructure, set up our camp as they had done the preceding year. They supplied: a huge tent for dining, propane stoves, propane refrigerator, table, chairs, and all the pots-pans, dishes and cutlery needed for cooking and eating. Not too primitive.

As camp manager, one of my jobs was to ensure the cook have the necessary help in food preparation for the 20 or so participants and of course to clean up after the meals. Kitchen Patrol or KP, as it is called, is a necessary chore and is to be shared by all.

The first afternoon at the PI’s "Welcome and Introduction" I explained KP duties to the group and said a sign up sheet had been posted and "please, the cook needs your help." We only asked for 3 people to stay in camp for KP duties on a given day. That meant they had to volunteer only one time during the session.

No one signed up, in fact, there was sort of a rebellion. "I have paid for this expedition to learn about archaeology, not to do KP!" was the grumble.

Dinner was wonderful- fresh salad, pasta and Dino’s wonderful Italian meatballs and fresh dinner rolls. Dino, another staff member and I did the clean up!

After that dinner I again announced the KP list was in need of volunteers. I also mentioned that tasting during the cooking was a perk.

I checked the list before I went to bed-we had 3 sign on for the next day! Yea!

Meal after meal was so wonderful and Dino so affable, the list became unwieldy with KP volunteers. They had tasted as they helped!

I had to trim the list each night to 3 and got sass! "But I wanted to stay in camp to help Dino."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fearless and Brave

We were camped at an empty and long abandoned corral area high up in the Sierra Ancha. We were there to continue work on the cliff dwellings in the area.

This was the first archaeological camping trip for my little dog, SILA, who at 4 months old weighed about 4 pounds.

As we prepared for dinner-long table and a potluck assortment of foods-the local rancher came bouncing, rattling in towing his old trailer, startling us.

He had two cows in his trailer-- cows now “feral” he said, missing from his herd for over 2 years.

We continued to set up our dinner not enjoying the prospect of sharing our camping area with cows and all their attendant noises and smells.

I looked around and my little SILA was missing.

Dinner was put on hold as we started a search for her. We called and called.


Several of us went to the corral and climbed atop the fence. Before us we saw this little four-pound poodle in a rigid ‘pointer-dog’ stance facing off the 2 ‘feral’ cows, each weighing about 1600 pounds!

She had them backed into a corner of the corral, butt to butt, and they were stark still, heads down just staring at her!

I jumped into the corral and grabbed her-handed her to one of the men sitting on the corral fence.

Of course, she ended up on a leash for the rest of dinner and time spent in the camp area.

But what a fearless and brave little dog I had.

By the way, I should tell you her name SILA- is an acronym for:

Sure I Like Archaeology.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I help with the Tucson region Site Steward training a couple of times a year. My section is a short in-class presentation: Artifact Identification and then a bit of fieldwork.

I had just gone through a “quick and dirty” bit on prehistoric artifact. So now it was time to present historic artifacts. I started with rusty cans.

As Site Stewards we ask the Stewards to clean up on-site trash IF it is not associated with pot hunting or other vandalism and the trash is recent.

I said, “We are now leaving rusty cans with aluminum tops as they are on the edge as historic trash”.

Wow! A woman in the audience said she objected, as these were nothing but trash.

I pointed out to her that Archaeologists study trash; the debris, which man regardless of age or culture, has left behind.

Her jaw dropped and she sputtered, “But these cans are from the 1960s and 70s, they are trash!”

I pointed out to her that, in my opinion, a can of this type was, in essence, no different from a projectile point dropped by prehistoric man. The projectile point tells us humans had been there, gives us a culture and even gives us a date. The style of the can may tell us a lot in its own way.

She did not buy my argument and was incensed to hear that Archaeologists study trash and we leave trash.

I guess she thought we only study whole vessels, sandals, jewelry etc.

We should be so lucky!

I have renamed my presentation: Lets Talk Trash

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Edwin Fox

Another EARTHWATCH trip for me, and this time to Picton, New Zealand.

The quaint and picturesque town on the far north tip of the south Island was the new home of the Edwin Fox, a sailing ship.

The Edwin Fox was the last of the East India Trading sailing ships of the 1800s and had been on a sandbar since the 1950s. Stuck there after its last trip, an ignoble journey as a coal hauler.

It had been decided to tow it to a berth and restore it. Tough to impossible to restore her since the Master builder of the 1800s had not left blue prints! He simply said, “cut it here, put it there.” We were there to take measurements of the ship and these measurements were to be turned into a blue print for the restoration.

I was assigned to do the stern measurements with another gal, Mina, who hailed from San Francisco. We were exacting in our work and often had to lean over the side to get the measurements.

I was rather new to eyeglasses and did not have a strap on them for protection.

Yep! Right over the side they went. That ended my work right then and there.

A quick trip to town to an optometrist and a plea for glasses now. He said it would take 2 weeks but maybe—well, he would see what he could do for me.

I was side lined!

He called in two days and had the new glasses for me. I couldn’t believe it, and they cost half of what they would have cost me in the USA.

I was back on the stern working and noticed our PI (principal investigator) donning dive gear. We had been told it was necessary to check/survey the bottom/keel of the ship so I figured this is what he was doing.

Down he went and the bubbles floated up telling us where he was. He was not under the ship, he was along side it!

Then the masked man popped up and a voice said in broad Australian accent and holding up a pair of glasses said, “Would these be yours?”

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Baby's Grave

Dear Bonnie Henry,
I am an Arizona Site Steward and this is one of the sites that I, and 2 others, monitor. I think there is a story here but I don’t know how to pursue it and thought of you, of course. I find it incredible that this baby’s grave dated 1931 is being visited and attended by a niece. There are so many questions that come to mind. If you are interested we could go out there to show you the grave.

How are you at going under barbed wire fences?

Cherie F.

Grave Revisited
In the Old Pantano Town cemetery (Cienega County Preserve) are about 26 unattended, tumbled and tossed graves except for one.

The grave, outlined in wood, is heaped with stones. The marker has a brightly blue painted, old wooden cross.

The grave’s marker states boldly in out-lined black:

Lucia Reyes Martinez: Feb- 28-1931—May- 21-1931

3 months old at time of death. Had she lived, she would be 74 years old today.

Her grave is covered with fresh, colorful plastic flowers; a small plastic Christmas tree trimmed with Poinsettias stands at attention at the head of the grave. The wooden marker is adorned in red and white tinsel wrap.

There are many touching offerings on the grave: a Birthday cake snow globe, styrofoam hand made doll, several Tecate beer cans, a little pile of colored glass shards, a rusty old can, plastic silvered Holly leaves and the nearby creosote bush is draped in the red and white Christmas tinsel wrap. A few daffodils are peeking up through the earth and rocks on the grave. A lot of love!

At the Preserve’s sign-in log the entry says:

1/26/05 D. Martinez---came to see my aunt, Luz Martinez. Today is my Birthday and this is how I wanted to spend it. ----(illegible) –out here. I feel at peace.

Next to the baby’s grave is another grave, heaped with stones and outlined with termite eaten wood. The granite head stone tossed to the side has the name and the date of the deceased chiseled out. Gone! Obliterated! Only the sign of the cross remains on the cold gray stone. On the ‘obliterated’ grave today—a small bunch of pink plastic flowers!

Ms. Bonnie Henry responded to my email immediately saying she would like to visit the grave.

In March, Valerie C. and I met a laughing—chatty, very warm and personable Bonnie Henry, Arizona Daily Star reporter. Boy! We got in my car and she instantly switched into the cold reporter mode! She fired question after question from the Site Steward program to our ages!

At the site she took notes and asked more questions as we toured the graves. Bonnie seemed to be genuinely interested in the baby’s grave and as anxious as we to find out more about the "tender" of the grave, the Niece.

On the way home she told us about the great train accident at Houghton and Rita Ranch Rd area in the early days of railroading in Tucson. 14 people were killed. The head-on collision/impact was so great, the eastbound caboose ended up back in the Tucson railroad yard some 12 miles away. She did the research, visited the site where artifacts still remain, and wrote the article. Now there will be a plaque on the Bank where the accident happened. As Bonnie put it about the morning—"it was a blast!"

Bonnie Henry's article appeared in the Arizona Daily Star 30 March 2005. She did a great job of tying all information together about the old Town, the baby, the Baby's family and even giving a plug for Site Steward program.

By the way, she goes under fences very well! We had to unhook her jeans from the barbed wire only once!

The Rest of The Story
As you know, the family has been visiting and maintaining the grave since Baby Lucia’s burial in 1931. Entry into the cemetery, by rolling under a barbed wire fence, was a definite hardship and deterrent to many family members as some were very aged and infirm.

A request for a gate for the cemetery was made by the Site Stewards to Pima County.

Loy N. of Pima County, Site Steward land manager contact, aided the Arizona Site Stewards Region 6 to obtain a gate for the family. He says his only role was to "suggest to Pima Flood Control a couple of times" the need for the gate. However, without his follow up and suggestions there would be no good news and that is:

A gate was installed in early October 2005! It is a wonderfully strong gate with an added whimsical handle-- a decorated horseshoe!

Bonnie Henry notified the family about installation of the gate and their reply,

"God bless you, Arizona Site Stewards."

Sunday, July 4, 2010


A cookie break at 10 am while excavating is a genteel and a Paleo thing to do.

Sitting quietly, munching my cookie, suddenly I hear a quail.

Jim tosses his chin and whispers, “He is the look out.”

The male quail perched mid-bush calls and calls and soon, about a dozen quail approach through an open area and scoot, head down, to the next creosote bush.

The call goes out again. Another group of quail scoot by us.

They did this day after day at 10 am during cookie break and each time they came closer to us as we sat quietly--trusting us.

They shouldn’t.

Jim is a quail hunter.