Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Great Expectations

Jim had decided to do a very controlled surface collection prior to excavation.

A grid system was put in place and each ‘block’ as I remember was 10 meters x 10 meters.

The Taylor ranch in the San Pedro Valley is a Sobaipuri protohistoric site (1450-1700 AD).

Sobaipuri artifacts are extremely small; pottery sherds are usually no bigger than your small fingernail and Sobaipuri projectile points, even though made of lovely red or yellow jasper that stand out on the desert floor, are also very tiny averaging about 17 millimeters in length. It is the point base that we long to find as it is diagnostic for date and culture.

What this tinyness of artifacts meant to us was normal ‘survey’ techniques (up right and walking!) could not be used. It was ‘on hands and knees’ to search the ground. We crawled every square inch of our blocks. Once in a while someone would mutter about a sherd or a lithic.

A point base! I found a point base.

Proudly I took the base to show Jim.

“Is that the best you can do?” he said as he fondled the artifact.

Harrumph! I’ll show him! That droll sense of humor!

I went back on hands and knees grabbed something, arose, marched to Jim and said, “Will this do?”

“Yep! That will do.” Jim grinned.

I had a whole point!

The beautiful red Jasper point was handed around for all to see. It was found but a few centimeters from the point base but as I said it had no more archaeological meaning than the point base except it was so pretty!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Trailer

Valerie C. and I went to the northwest side of Tucson to monitor a couple of prehistoric sites for the Arizona State Trust Land Department. The area is well known as a hot bed of drug and illegal immigrant smuggling activities by gun toting men - not nice guys at all.

As I have said elsewhere, we are Arizona Site Stewards. We are trained to monitor sites for vandalism, mainly the type that pothunters do - dig big holes on sites looking for saleable artifacts.

We are trained in handling hot and cold cases and because of this training we are curious, observant, brave, nonchalant, determined – calm, cool, collected in our work in other words.

We drove into the desert on a dusty, bumpy dirt road. Recent tire tracks in the 2-track put us on high alert.

We entered a clear area of the desert and saw a trailer about 200 feet off the road. A big house trailer! It was sitting lopsided, very dirty, windows were out - it looked abandoned and very eerie.

Valerie said, “Let’s go have a look at it. Maybe we can get some information for our report.”

She parked the SUV and we started walking side by side about 5 meters apart to the trailer.

“I’ve got footprints here. Do you?” I called.

“Valerie,” I shouted at her. “Did you see the size of these foot prints leading to the trailer?”

Still walking I yelled to her, “I don’t like this. These footprints are huge and I don’t want to see who ever they belong too. My lord, they are huge.”

She cooly responded, “The place looks abandoned. I think it is ok.”

“Valerie,” I screamed, “They are huge! These are the biggest footprints I have ever seen. I am out of here!”

I turned and high tailed it to the safety of our vehicle.

As I said, “trained to be brave, nonchalant, determined - cool!”

I need more training!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting There Can Be Daunting

The protohistoric Sobaipuri dig site is an hour’s ride, half of which is on a bumpy dirt road. Morning coffee ‘hits’ about mid point and luckily for us there is a very active gas station and mart.

As I am heading back to the ladies room Jim comes down the aisle looking very worried. "Man is down in the men’s room. Can you see to him?"

In I go! My eyes looking for the man- I see him. "Call 911 anyone," I say loudly to who ever is there.

Men in stalls, men at the urinals I really don’t see them.

Elderly man, 80s probably, and he is braced against a stall, one leg tucked under him. I drop down next to him and start asking him questions. He mumbles.

As I talk I check his leg and it moves and he does not wince. He tells me the leg is ok and without pain. I have the leg out from under him and note the bleeding from his left ear. He responds but eyes roll back into his head. I place my fingers under his right jaw and monitor his pulse as I lift his jaw to maintain an open air way. His pulse is erratic.

He comes to and says he wants to go home. In talking with him, I find out he is driving by himself to home about 30 miles away. He has heart problems. He tries to get up. I talk him out of it by telling him the EMTs are on the way.

His pulse is irregular. He slides out of consciousness again.

EMTs are here - scissors are out and "there goes the gray shirt," I say to Jim – an inside joke. We laugh a nervous laugh.

I give the EMTs a quick report and leave. Inside the car I shake.

I attended another accident months later and emailed Jim about it. His email back is priceless:

"Our morning in the men’s room pales in comparison!"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Barger Gulch is located in Middle Park, 12 miles from the dusty, sleepy town of Kremmling, Colorado. The town is at the confluence of three rivers, one being the Colorado so fishing and mosquitoes are big time there. Kremmling city fathers made a bad mistake years ago selling the town’s water rights to Denver so the town was always in a water-tight situation. But I digress.

The dig site is a Folsom (10,500-10,000 BC) research project for the University of Wyoming. Todd S. and Nicole W., the principal investigators, are Ph.D candidates I had been working with at the University of Arizona and they graciously invited me to join them for the three month excavation.

The site was located on BLM property. The BLM agents were fantastic supporters of the dig in so many ways but the one I enjoyed more than – say a shower at their facility – was a day-off rafting the Colorado!

Lazy rafting, as it turned out, as the river was very low and slow. There was talk of portage for the rafts.

We had been floating along when the BLM guide said, “Say-would you guys like to see dinosaur tracks?”

“Sure!” was the immediate and excited response from everyone.

Further down stream we pulled the rafts to shore next to a little sign saying: DINOSAUR TRACKS

We followed a little trail into the brush. Having done archaeology survey work for years I was intent at looking at the ground for ‘evidence.’

We walked and looked and saw nothing.

As we neared a cliff face I said, “I am not seeing anything.”

The guide said, “Look up.”

The cliff face was covered with tracks huge tracks!

Geological uplift of the surface bed over a million plus years ago made the tracks appear to be walking up into the sky instead of ‘on the ground.’ We followed the base of the cliff for about 50 yards and it was solid with dinosaur tracks.

Hmmm-“Look up” is not something archaeologists do. I wonder how much we miss?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Barnes Site

A Folsom point (10,500-10,000 BC) had been found on the surface by the survey crew on the Barnes site in Colorado.

PCRG had said they would join in the dig as we were after all Paleo Culture Research Group.

I was assigned the 2x1 meter pit right at the Folsom point find.

Expectations were high. My partner and I excavated, bagged and carried that damn dirt for days! Nothing! When I checked at the water screening area for signs of artifacts from our pit: Nothing. Nil. Nada. We didn’t even have a rock!

I worked the south end of the pit. At about 20 centimeters down in the southwest corner I noticed a soil color change very faint but it was there. I excavated a bit more. Yep, it was there.

I made a trip out of the pit to see Stan and tell him about the soil change.

He comes, has a look and says, "I don’t see it."

Day 2 of color change: I am now down deeper and can really see the change in color and texture. Heck, if I can’t have artifacts surely I can have color and texture change!

Stan: "Nope, Cherie. There is no change in texture or color."

Day 3 of color change. It is there I see it, my partner doesn’t see it. I am really crazy.

Stan: "Nope. Nothing. There, there. It’s ok. You don’t have to have something." And he was saying this while patting me on the shoulder, as though I was a heartbroken little girl.

We are at the bottom of the pit, since there have been no artifacts then there is no sense to continue to excavate. Very disappointing.

I have been asked to assist at other pits. I endure the teasing!

Days later I hear my name called and the request to come back to my pit. The world is there.

Stan tells me a ‘soil man’ had really looked at the area I had been 'nagging' him about.

It has been determined "there is a change of color and texture" and they had decided it is Paleo soil.

I had been excavating the ‘side’ of a small ridge from Paleo times, that had filled in with silt over the thousands of years.

Stan was wonderful when he was telling me, "You are vindicated. You have a good eye, Cherie."

He said this to me in front of all the excavators. They cheered!

I smiled and said. "Thank you. Guess I do have good glasses!"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rains Came

This excavation year at Hellgap I wasn’t allowed to set up my tent next to the little wash. The rancher said it annoyed the cows as they passed by on their way to water!

I found a spot at the base of a rock outcropping and up hill from the main cottage that housed the kitchen and other central activities. A small group of trees nearby gave some privacy for the shower stall. In general, it was an ok tent spot and one that had me to the kitchen in quick order. And above all it was level. Yes! On the hill but level; almost a little landing carved out on the hillside.

We worked for about a week — our normal comings and goings; digging and washing artifacts - but then came the rains.

And it rained — and rained.

We spent time in the center exploring and picking matrix from our units. Using an enlarging lens we removed with tweezers anything not found in the washing screens. Of course we grumbled about the rain and wondered if we had covered the excavation area well enough to prevent water damage.

On the third day of rains after dinner and a quick scamp to my tent I noticed when I got inside my tent a spongy feel to the floor. Nothing was wet but I had the distinct impression I was on water. The entire tent had the feel of a waterbed.

I grabbed an empty can and in the pouring rain I trenched around the tent. I should have done this at the outset - but oh well! I also noticed water accumulating at the back of the tent. I was pleased that the water began to flow down the hill away from the tent and it flowed and flowed and then some more. The water flowed down the little trenches but it continued to accumulate at the back of the tent so now I bailed and bailed and bailed some more. Exhausted, wet, discouraged and now in the “to hell” with it mode I went to bed.

I was tired so I slept and slept well. I slept dry!

In the morning, I noticed the floor of my tent still felt like a waterbed. On reviewing my trenching handiwork from the night before I could still see a hellva lot of water flowing around my tent.

And the rain had stopped!

There was only one thing to do at this point and that was to move the tent. Not a fun job when one has 2 weeks of clothes, bedding and all the other stuff!

When I had everything out of the tent and had it lifted off the ground I found water pouring out of the ground.

My ok spot was on top of a spring!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bison Jump Site

The dig at Hall’s Cave that contained a 1/4 million bats had been tiring and odoriferous!

Ernie Lundelius and Mike Collins, the PIs for the dig, decided to give us a break and take us for an outing into the countryside for some clean, fresh air - a site visit.

The outing was near Langtry, Texas a few hours drive north and west from our excavation.

The site we visited is quite famous: The Bonfire Bison Jump/Kill site.

Paleo-indians and then archaic-indians drove Bison-bison (now extinct) off a cliff into a narrow canyon.

One episode, it is believed, more than 800 bison were driven off the cliff - more meat than the band could butcher or eat. What was not taken was left to rot. It has been postulated spontaneous combustion set the great rotting mound on fire thus giving the site its name.

As I said, the location is down a narrow canyon with walls about 40 feet tall, craggy and sheer.

Ernie was walking along one such wall and called out to us, “Hey, come see this.”

He was standing over a very small mound of bones. The bones were about 12 inches long and very thin. Nothing compared to the great 20 foot mound of huge Bison-bison bones we had just viewed.

We were unimpressed until he said, “These are bat bones! Look up!”

We did and saw about 6 HUGE bats hanging from a small crevice. These bats were about 12 inches long!

Ernie said these big bats were from Mexico and should not be this far north.

Illegal Immigrants!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Skull

My Site Steward partner and I monitor Forest Service (FS) land in a canyon with about 35 sites ranging in age from 10,000 BC to 1880’s AD.

We hiked into a site and found a scattering of bones along a low ridge, but only one skull. We collected it and took to the Osteology department at University of Arizona (UofA) to be identified. We were told it was small canine, probably fox.

We notified our FS contact; told him about the bones and fox skull as ID by UofA.

A FS law enforcement officer met me outside of Tucson for the drive to the canyon. He spoke little, was grumpy but did say a helicopter was to be in the canyon to do aerial reconnaissance of the entire canyon's Creek.

I hiked the FS lawman to the site of the bones. We could hear the helicopter over head then saw it flying low along the many twists and turns of the Creek.

At the bone site, without a word, he dropped down into a small wash and was gone.

Feeling deserted, I roamed the site and saw a plant I had never seen before. Marijuana!

I sat on the bank of the wash for about 30 minutes awaiting his return and sitting there I noticed a rattlesnake about 6 feet from me. I scooted off to the side.

As he came down the wash I called to him, “Watch the rattler.” He was shocked that I wasn’t all shook up!

He said all the foxholes along this small wash were empty - spider webbed covered or were caved in. In other words, they were unused - abandoned.

The helicopter crew radio-reported to him they thought all the fox dens were empty along the Creek too. They had found more piles of bones! Piles and piles of bones along the entire Creek.

Their analysis for the canyon: all foxes had been killed - hunted for their pelts, “For sale to the Army for cold weather parkas,” he told me.

It has been ten + years and we have yet to see an active fox den.

Oh the marijuana plant?

He laughed and said, “Not even cows would touch that noxious weed!”

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Hi to all who are not 'older than dirt' as I am.

I have been asked about "Brigadoon." Copy and paste this url to google I think you will be delighted.


Be sure to have your speakers on!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Hohokam Platform Mound

We were sent to a map a Hohokam platform mound, circa 1150-1300 AD, in the middle of the desert east of the Pichacho Peak area.

Arizona had had very unusual wonderful spring rains. Each side of the long desert dirt road to the site was blanketed with wild flowers. Absolutely covered in beautiful lavender as far as the eye could see in all directions.

This boded ill for mapping.

How were we to map the site if it was covered in vegetation? What could we expect to see? Certainly not the adobe melted, ground level walls of the rooms or the compound walls surrounding the platform.

We arrived, parked and did the usual shooing cows with a loud "Hi Ya" then rolled under the barbed wire fence.

The flat area approaching the mound was nude, just desert earth - no vegetation; an occasional potsherd here, a lithic there - but nothing astounding yet signaling greater things ahead.

We could see the mound rising up about 3 meters above the desert floor. It was covered in ground hugging weeds!

What we saw when we got atop the mound really astounded us.

The walls of the rooms and the compound walls were fully visible! On the entire site, walls were completely delineated by the lack of weeds - walls showing each room even the entryway into the rooms. The vegetation had grown right up to the walls but since the walls were adobe the weeds did not grow on them.

We spent ecstatic hours pin flagging, taking pictures and mapping each wall. We had a fantastic map of the site.

Later we learned: southwest archaeologists, who are used to dealing in 100 year spans, call this vegetation anomaly the “Brigadoon Effect”!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sassy Pays

Four of us were surveying an area north and west of Fort Huachuca. Our goal: to find prehistoric sites worth preserving on this private land, meaning a prehistoric site with structures or alignments. The rancher-owner had invited us in. He wanted to know what was ‘out there.’

The land is one of the original Mexico-Arizona ‘land grants’ and has been in the family for about 4 generations. The family had sold some land to Ft. Huachuca. The Fort was buying the property to keep ‘cyber-noise’ at the lowest level possible. The strip of land we were to survey was up for sale; to be split into house lots.

We were following a small wash and were in chest high dry grass. We had covered several acres-nothing-nada-nil! Oh we had an old bit of wood, a bucket and nails all signs of recent cattle ranch working; nothing that we were interested in preserving.

It was a tough slog through that dry, skin slicing, tall grass.

I called out, “Head for that tree to the south. There will be a site there!”

As we left the deep, chest high grass we entered an open area several yards from the tree.

The call, “I have a point!”

3 more points, other lithics, ground stone and pottery – yep! We had a site, unfortunately, not a site ‘worth’ preserving.

The call got me laughing as I was just being sassy when I said a site would be at the tree.

I just wanted out of that damn grass!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Nightime Sounds

We were at Camp Gladwin, named for Harold Gladwin who visited the area in about 1928, for our continuing work in the Sierra Ancha cliff dwellings located in a wilderness area north and east of Phoenix.

Our camp was about 30 miles in from a small paved road. 30 miles of a rough and winding dirt road and we were 1½ hours from ‘town’ so when I say wilderness I mean it!

Elaine H. didn’t care much for tenting so she had fixed up the back of her SUV truck for nighttime sleeping-open hatch with screen surrounding the opening.

She had her truck parked in a mesquite bosque just off the dirt road and was about 1000 meters from the main camp.

She came to me one morning at breakfast and said, “I was awaken last night by a strange noise.”

She described it as a “breathy” hoo (pause) hoo sound.

The only thing I could think of that could possibly make that eerie sound would be a big cat! As it walked and put down a paw air would be ‘pushed’ out of it’s lungs causing this strange breathy sound.

This area has the highest black bear population in the Arizona but I didn’t think it was bear.

I said, “Lets have a look around your truck.”

Sure enough, when we looked at the ground around her truck there were huge cat prints circling her truck! Really big paw prints, sign of a huge cat-mountain lion, Puma or whatever other name this cat is called.

She and the cat were separated by a mere 2 millimeters of screen!

Elaine moved her truck closer to camp that day.

As someone said, "Good thing she didn't have a can of tuna in there!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Indian Kitchen: an Emergency Inventory

Please forgive any errors or omissions as my memory dims with time but this is what I remember.

Max W., from the Tucson BLM office, called asking if I could round-up help for the BLM. People with archaeological experience were needed to do an Emergency Inventory at the Indian Kitchen site. BLM had been notified that bulldozer activity in the area had been heard in the 2 am hours on several occasions.

Calls went out and the Tucson Site Stewards responded as they always do.

A newly bladed road, we were told, ran through the BLM land for 8 miles. Were archaeological sites impacted? If so, how badly? We were to help with damage assessment of the archaeological sites.

Indian Kitchen is a Hohokam habitation site that dates to 1200 AD. About 20 or so mortar holes at the base of a rock out-cropping gives the site its name. The site located is south and west of Tucson.

When we arrived at Indian Kitchen the first thing we noticed was a wide, newly bladed road. I had been to this site several times and where there had been a dirt two track now there was a two-lane road; bulldozers had expanded the area around the rock out-cropping and made it look like a parking lot. Potsherds and lithics were poking up everywhere.

Our group, led by Max, followed the newly bladed two-lane road around the BLM land to its end. Along the way we noted Palo Verde trees, a variety of cacti, mesquite trees - actually all vegetation - up-rooted, lying twisted and torn along the road. Berms formed; washes gouged; Archaeological sites torn through. The two track, now wide-bladed, made strange turns and angles - a set-up for erosion and flooding. The area was a great twisted and mangled mess. The “main” road lead to the end of the property and at this area was a new aircraft runway. A few houses had been built way out here. A Wildcat housing development!

A Security Police Officer arrived and closed off the end of the BLM road leading to the homes and runway. A couple of the homeowners arrived and were angry about the road closure. Very Angry! We left the soft spoken, polite yet determined, policeman to do his job. The road was closed and that was that!

After this drive-thru recon, we formed into crews and started our normal archaeological walking survey of the area along the roads.

We surveyed for 5 days, as I remember, walking each side of the road assessing damage to vegetation and noting archaeological disturbances made by the unauthorized bulldozer activities. We found historic mining activity areas had been impacted by the unauthorized dozer as had known prehistoric sites.

We found a couple of previously unknown sites; one was an archaic site; another, a site of unknown time frame, of interest because the inhabitants had used a material NOT normally seen in lithic manufacturing, quartz crystal.

At one time, when we were close to the main “Kitchen” area gunfire was heard and bullets whizzed overhead. We were not comfortable!

Mapping of archaeological sites was done by the BLM crew using a sophisticated GPS system; Video cameras were used to document the awful damage to vegetation, washes, and archaeological sites.

Now, it is 6 years later and in the newspaper this morning the news of conviction of 2 men - one Tucsonan the other from Las Vegas - for damages done to the Indian Kitchen site and surrounding area. According to the newspaper article, one man was convicted on 6 felony counts the other on 15 counts of the original 37 felony counts including: conspiracy, damaging archaeological resources, damaging public lands, trespassing, cutting down trees on public land. Their sentencing will take place in Nov 03. The fines could be up to maximum $250,000 and 10 years in jail for EACH offense, for which there were many! There was great damage to the area.

As I said, time dims my memory; I cannot remember all the names of Site Stewards who responded to the Emergency call but be it known, you did a super job and many a thank you comes your way. The archaeological sites we monitor are old and in ruins but the “thank you” is always new and strong.

Oh! Before I forget — I attended a meeting of the wildcat homeowners and BLM. The homeowners were furious that the road closure continues and they claim the developer has saved the government about one million dollars as the road needed to be widen to accommodate their needs! Now they will have to use the county maintained dirt road and it is not as convenient for them.