Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I am not sure how to write up this fiasco as it was so confusing but I’ll give it a try.

We were formed into 3 crews for the remote area survey – each crew with a vehicle.

We were to be 4 crews but one was a no show.

Michelle had given out the maps showing the survey areas for each crew.

I was on Michelle’s crew.

Off we go to our survey area.

We weren’t going anywhere - fast. She couldn’t get the vehicle out of 2nd gear!

Michelle and I took off in 2nd gear for the tiny nearby town. We left our crew members to cool their heels roadside thinking we might be stuck in town and the crew would meet up with the others - eventually.

I remember we left the vehicle in town and Connie came to get us.

Back in the remote area, Connie and I dropped Michelle off with the 4th crew,the no show. They had been stranded earlier with battery problems! They were roadside waiting with the rest of our stranded crew.

The next thing I remember I was with Connie. I think we were headed for the 1st crew to tell them to abort the day.

We proceeded to have a front wheel flat tire!

We did all the usual - jack the car up – get the spare out- take off the flat. Ah heck! You all know the miserable routine!

As Connie and I were changing the tire a man in a pick-up truck pulled up next to us. He offered to help. As I talked with him I looked in his vehicle window and saw a very ugly hydraulic bow and arrow resting on the front seat. I thanked him but said we were almost through changing the tire. “But thank you for stopping.”

I rolled the spare tire to Connie and the two of us lifted it up and put it on her Jeep.

Whew! We did it and were on our way! Nope the car would not budge.

We had put the tire on backwards!

Jack up the car again - undo the lug nuts- put the tire on the right way!

Now we were finally on our way and met up with the rest of the crews.

Only one crew had been able to survey - partially. The rest of us were tangled up with cars one way or tother!

Finally we were all together sitting roadside eating, bemoaning the lost day and laughing about the day’s fiasco when I saw the final insult:

The Jeep’s metal symbol announcing it was a “Jeep” unhinge, swing and dangle!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Fire Starter

We were camped at Flaming Gorge for Utah State University’s Archaeology Field School.

There were about 15 students who were newcomers to archaeology. They were young, strong and all had an abundance of energy - unending energy and all with a sense of humor too. A lot to handle for this old broad!

We had a cook! Wonderful Barbara, who normally joined us in the field school training but was injured. She had agreed to cook for us so her husband, Carl, could assist with the training.

In front of the cook’s tent was a nice rock fire ring. Every night one particular student, John, would start a roaring fire. Now this student professed to be THE fire starter for the camp.

He would gather firewood, trash and whatever he could find to burn - all the necessaries for a big roaring fire. We would sit around the fire ring swapping stories and singing to the guitars. There was much laughter!

At times Barbara would say we were going to have hamburgers and hot dogs for dinner and those were to be cooked over the fire. We had fire!

We were to move camp to a higher altitude for survey but because of bad snow weather at the higher altitude we moved across state to the BLM Resource Center at Heber where there was a nice ramada with tables and grills.

The first night Barbara asked THE fire starter to do the honors as we were having hot dogs and hamburgers. He stated emphatically he would have nothing to do with grills. And by golly he didn’t!

A few of us set about to light the fire grill for our dinner. John was nowhere to be seen.

He went to the local eatery in town!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Yellow Sign

Outside of Idaho Falls is a big Folsom site. Our field school group was invited by the local archaeologist to have a tour of the site.

The ride out of town into the middle of nowhere was long and well - boring.

The long fences on each side of the road sported signs saying such things as: No Entry; US Federal Property; Do Not Enter; No Trespassing. We were in the middle of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory; 900 square miles of it - a nothingness!

Our Folsom site tour guide suddenly took a left onto a road that came out of nowhere.

There was building with a ramada, water and latrines. The brick building was built in 1950s – the world’s first Nuclear Power Plant! There were two immense Atomic powered aircraft engines in the parking area. The engines were never used, as they were too heavy for existing aircraft.

We were invited to use the facilities but to tour the building later upon our return.

We were given ‘visitors passes’ for the US controlled entry to the Folsom site.

The Folsom site was very large and was fairly untouched, almost pristine. There were obsidian lithics/tools scattered over the entire area. No excavations had taken place that I remember and because it was on “Laboratory” controlled property it was fully protected from pothunters or other loot seekers.

It was overshadowed though by a huge concrete capped Nuclear Waste dump. Red warning signs “Radio Active” were located around the dump. What looter wanted to be near that nuclear, radio active, dumpsite any way?

On return we stopped at the 1950s building to tour the World’s first Nuclear Power Plant.

There was a yellow sign to the right of the front door – the sign read:



Thursday, September 16, 2010


I had a thousand mile drive ahead of me, and dang if my radio didn’t go out. A real bummer for me! I love to listen to the radio on a long drive.

I was near a small town and pulled into an L strip-mall. The local ‘drug’ store had a cheapo battery operated radio. Good.

Back at my car - I couldn’t get in. I had locked the keys inside.

I went back to the store and asked the lady at the desk to call AAA for me. She did.

They were a ‘no show’ four hours later! It was a Saturday and the AAA contacts quit at noon!

I paced the sidewalk in front of the store wondering what to do - police would not come nor would the fire department.

I saw a yellow cab enter the mall parking lot.

I went up to the window - tapped on it and said, “Would you happen to know a gang member who could get into my car for me? I have locked my keys in there.”

I really did say that! And the cabbie was just as incredulous as you are!

He pulled into the slot next to my car. He got out; I swear he looked just like the “Mr. Clean.” A really big man, shaved head had it all.

He opened the trunk of his car. I saw wires, tools and HUGE machete with wire wrapped around it.

“I am dead! He’ll kill me right here in this parking lot. And no one will see it” I thought.

He opened my car in less than 5 seconds!

I was so grateful I cried.

I reached into my wallet and got a $20 bill out. As I gave him the bill I gave him a hug.

Hugging me back he said, “I thank you and my six kids thank you. I am an out of work county investigator!”

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Case for Witches

Following the "Murders in the Bog" excavation Jim and I had an unbelievable number of untoward incidents that included: personal body attacks; serious life threatening illnesses requiring hospitalizations; car thefts or accidents where we were not at fault- our list was extensive - 30 plus entries.

More than disconcerting. It was frightening! And, to boot, Jim told me about an excavation crew who were all killed or died within one year after their excavation. Very unnerving and here we were experiencing something astoundingly awful.

Normally all of these incidents in this span of time would seem to be normal to a group of individuals but I will remind you they happened to just the 2 of us - just the two of us did the excavation - they started right after the Murders excavation and happened in a 2 year time frame.

I don’t really believe in so called paranormal but when it comes to Native Americans well, I am a believer.

Here is a quick story to explain what I mean.

We had had so many incidents that I sought help. And that help came from an Elder on the Tohono O’odham reservation.

I called Elder Ed – gave him an abbreviated account of what had occurred. He suggested a Cleansing Ceremony.

I contacted Jim, a skeptic, who cautiously agreed and we made an appointment for the Ceremony to be preformed on the Tohono O’odham reservation.

Before the Ceremony, Elder Ed sat with us under a ramada and asked us to explain again and thoroughly what had happened and why we thought we needed this Ceremony.

Jim did the talking – explaining. This is normal when dealing with the Tohono O’odham Elders - women take the back seat!

The Elder asked me if I agreed with what was said. I said, "Yes."

After the explicit and detailed explanation to him about our need, he went on to tell us that, yes, he knew about the murders!

The BLM crew had called the nation and four Elders went to the site, but the Elders had fled and did not do the “Spirits Appeasing Ceremony” as they normally do.

Three of the Elders had the Cleansing Ceremony as soon as they returned to the reservation. They were well.

The fourth Elder had refused the Ceremony and became very ill. The doctors did not know what was wrong with him. He was near death.

Elder Ed told us we really needed to believe in the Cleansing Ceremony or it would not work for us. I told him I believed - I had to believe, as there were too many awful happenings to us. Jim, as I said, was a skeptic but he too acknowledged his belief.

Elder Ed did the half hour Ceremony for us: the burning of the leather thongs, whirling the smoke about us, lighting the incense, waving the feather wand to the 6 directions, and the chanting - lots of rhythmical chanting in his native language.

I really felt a sense of peace and relief when the Ceremony was over.

From that day forward we have had no major untoward incidents! Oh both of us have had a few minor incidents but nothing to be worried about - all very normal trials in one’s life.

One item on our list: Jim’s extensively researched report on the Sobaipuri murders had been turned down 3 times by the BLM ranger as she didn’t like his conclusion: the 2 murdered men where witches. Turning down a report is unheard of. The dissenter normally writes a paper explaining their disagreement with the reporter/investigator’s conclusion. That is how science works.

The unchanged report was accepted after the Ceremony!

The Elders thought they were witches!

This story is my way of saying: they were witches.

Some things just are and are inexplicable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Murders in a Bog

Phone calls have a way of setting one’s life on ear! This one—“Would you be willing to help with a burial excavation—tomorrow?”

The two burials were located in and extruding from an embankment along the Cienega Creek, in the BLM Empire Ranch area. Recent rains had threatened to break up the bank and release the bones and all possible information down stream; in fact, some portions had been washed away. The bones had been found by a BLM Herpetologist, several days before the call came in.

A BLM crew had already removed one individual; had identified the burial as Sobaipuri period, aka: protohistoric (roughly 1540-1750?) and they had run out of time to complete the rest of the excavation. They called Jim V. of Center for Desert Archaeology who is doing his PhD dissertation on the Sobaipuri. Luckily, I had been working with Jim on another Sobaipuri site and he knew I was interested.

Thursday morning was hot and humid. With the full sun on our backs, we started mapping, profiling and trying to ascertain the best way to attack the remaining portion of the excavation.

Jim determined right away the soil profile, which gave us an idea of the situation/soils in which the skeletons were located. Bog! They were on the edge of a bog when they were “thrown” in, that had a drop off to deeper water. Huge rocks, including a metate, had been thrown on top of them—to hold them down? The rocks had been removed by the BLM crew.

The remaining skeleton, partially exposed, was lying on abdomen; right wrist appeared to extend under right pelvis in “an ouch!” tummy holding position; left arm extended along the body with palm up; ribs were fractured, splintered; skull was facing to left (not face down) and severely fractured, we think by a rock; lower legs were missing.

The two individuals had been in a head to toe arrangement so most likely some of the bones intermingled. Our individual’s right hand was not recovered so this may have been part of the intermingling or perhaps - cut off! I think the individual we were recovering was alive when thrown into the bog. Why was the skull facing left instead of face down?

This was not a burial. This was a demeaning, brutal attack with a graceless disposal of bodies thrown into the bog in a final show of contempt. Sobaipuri buried their dead in a pit often in vertical seated position.

I had to stand on a stool to excavate, and was just getting used to this stance and had barely scraped a bit of dirt when I saw a projectile point in situ. I said, “Jim I need a bag for this point” by the time he brought the bag to me I had four more points! So, it continued throughout the next days. The “I need a bag” became a point of laughter as Jim would say, “How many?”

We point provenienced all artifacts: northing, easting, elevations and bearing of shots — all tedious, exacting, time consuming measurements but will do well for possible 3D mapping at a later date. Jim took photos of the points in-situ for further documentation and he maintained extensive notes and maps during the excavation process.

To make the seven, 10-hour day, and hot excavation story short—and to the point! —Pun intended—This individual had been shot with 77 projectile points and stabbed twice, all of the points are Sobaipuri who, by the way, were known to poison their projectile points! I think there were five shooters, rank speculation on my part. Bearings on the points may tell us this after computer data is processed.

Whole points were recovered from the abdominal cavity; many whole points from the rib/lungs but some had broken on impact with the ribs. This poor soul had projectile points in hips, both “buns”, kidneys, wrists, hands, neck, and one point went through 2 lower vertebrae horizontally. I would assume this caused instant paralysis. Upper neck was not spared either. Both arms were broken/shattered and full of points.

Most of the ribs were broken/shattered and at each break site there was a projectile point and sometimes up to five. Same with the arms and clavicles (collar bones), projectile points at each break. More projectile points than I have ever seen. Fingertips of the left hand were smashed—stepped on maybe?

About four projectile points were recovered from the 1/8th inch mesh screen—oversight on my part. These points are very small, about 1-2cms long and will go thru a ¼ inch mesh screen, as they are narrow.

Are we talking over kill here? Boy, was someone angry!

Exactly what happened? Why? Who were these individuals?

None of the analysis has been done. We are just out of the field.

No metal was recovered in-situ, so we doubt they are Spaniards who had just made “contact.” Were they Apache warriors? Were they Sobaipuri from another tribe and had been caught doing something wrong? Were they witches? Sobaipuri had witches as documented by the Spanish priests (Father Kino). Was this murder, justifiable homicide or was this war?

The only piece of metal was a Winchester Repeater Rifle 44 shell casing—1880s—but a rodent burrow was nearby and rodents love shiny objects. Time frame is a mind boggler especially with the one piece of pre-historic pottery recovered! A conundrum! We think these two artifacts lend nothing to the story; are just ‘background noise.’

About 5 days into the dig, we uncovered a bone and fragments of what appears to be cow—Spanish brought in the cow about (1693?) This would date the site to after 1693. Or, it could be Bison? The Sobaipuri traded for Bison meat and skin—but bone?

Not the ‘right’ teeth were in place for Indian vs. Anglo identification to be made on site. Indian incisors can be shovel shaped at the back. The gracile appearing pelvis was smashed at the symphysis pubis by points so we may never know gender—Mandible looked rather thin though –could this be a female? Or, an old individual, as the few teeth in-situ had cavities and were very worn down. One tooth cavity exhibited signs of stick ‘cleaning’ as the perfectly round hole was worn and shiny. Most of the mandible had been without teeth for a long time—long enough to heal over completely without a trace of teeth ever having been in place.

The Tohono O’odham elders have been contacted and they have the final say as to what type of analysis can be done. We do believe that ASM will be able to look at the bones and do a limited analysis. We know the Tohono O’odham elders will not allow anything destructive so DNA recovery may not be possible—and they may not allow residue analysis of the points. Apaches will not allow any analysis and nor will not take the bones for reburial either.

We may never know what happened. So many more questions than answers!

Any guesses?

I do know this: I NEVER want to get anyone this angry with me! And, I know I will NEVER have this type of excavation experience again.

Addendum: Primary bone analysis by Lane B. of ASM; Our individual, male, between 50-55 years old—teeth were present but worn down so not visible by an inexperienced observed (me!) Incisors showed great wear with an “o” shaped opening appearing from eyetooth to eye tooth. The right hand had been cut off! Multiple cuts appeared at the wrist are peri-mortem. This man had slight arthritis in the shoulder. He had been beaten by a club, as many of the breaks were blunt trauma breaks. His skullcap had cut marks that seem to indicate “scalping” had taken place.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

High Altitude

I am a smoker and when Bonnie invited me to participate in her Paleoindian high altitude dig, I quit. I didn’t smoke for the three months before the dig.

I arrived at the trailhead motel a few days to get acclimated to the starting altitude of 9,000 feet. I drove to the trailhead to have a look at the meeting area. We were to hike to 12,000 feet carrying all our gear including food for 2 weeks. About a 65 pound backpack to tote, in other words!

The trailhead had three railroad ties as stairs. I climbed the ‘stairs’ and was huffing-puffing so badly I thought I was going to die on the spot.

Devastated at the prospect of being unable to do the hike to get to the dig area I sat in my motel room brooding and looking out the window at a horse stable/riding area. Horses! Yes! I could get there by horse.

I went to the stable and presented my case to the cowboy. Could he take me, and my gear, across the 12,000 foot mountain pass then down the steep path into Caribou Lake area? He said he would have to check with the owners but this is something he would really like to do.

The owners agreed. We set a price, date and time to meet for this trek.

So it was the cowboy, his horse, a horse for me and another horse for my gear.

We traveled a long open trail; then forest areas; open alpine fields and then hard scrabble to the rocky top at 12,000 feet.

The wind was so horrendous at the top I got off the horse and crawled on hands and knees to the edge. When I looked down at the steep 500 foot switch back path I choked, “I can’t do this!”

The path was barely wide enough for one person to walk never mind a horse and all the gear.

My cowboy said, “We are going. You are not going to miss this dig.”

We went. My eyes were closed most of the way. I arrived in camp riding fast and happy now that I was on flat ground! The crew was flabbergasted.

The cowboy’s name was Muir! He was a lawyer from Washington State, a grandson, if I remember correctly of John Muir the naturalist. He hated every minute of the closed in atmosphere of Lawyering so he left for Colorado, for the cowboy life.

2 weeks later he came back over the mountain to get me, bringing with him a wonderful lunch, of avocados, cashew nuts, fresh bread and cheese. So thoughtful of him to do for me and too, super tasty after two weeks of eating dried stuff.

The ride back up the narrow switch back trail to the top of the mountain was just as daunting.

Sometimes, I had to get off the horse to lead him around a tight switch back, other times I rode closed eyed or turned into the mountain! "Don’t look down! Don’t look down," a voice in me screamed.

We got to the top of the mountain, the way was open. Peril was over! Home free!

The ride through the forest was lovely but my horse was acting strangely.

The cowboy in a soft firm voice said, “A coyote is following us to my left. Keep your eyes open.”

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Los Robles

The Hohokam Los Robles platform mound is from the 13th century and is monitored by Arizona Site Stewards. Vandalism is frequently noted.

Three of us went to this site about 40 miles on the northwest side of Tucson.

One has to walk about 1000 feet through the desert to get to the mound. Unauthorized vehicles have driven in there so now there is a drive path to the base of the 2-meter high mound.

Even though it is a short walk we have all our desert paraphernalia with/on us: adorned hats, boots, backpacks with cameras, water, measuring tape - the works.

On this day we saw fresh boots and tire tracks in the path so we left the path and walked along side of it to preserve the prints if needed later for evidence.

At the mound several new and big holes had been dug. Plainware sherds stacked on top one another, presumably decorated ones gone. More boot prints - we were careful to not step on them.

We measured the holes, got GPS readings, took pictures and noted the soda can, tossed into the creosote bush (aha-good for DNA testing!).

Our work completed, we looked up and saw a vehicle approaching from the north. Dang! Could it be the perps returning?

“We better get back to the car,” someone called out.

The vehicle pulled in next to ours! No way could we get license number or other info on the vehicle we would need for our report. And how do we make a safe get-a-way?

Two people got out of the vehicle – man and woman.

They didn’t talk.

They headed towards us.

We left the mound and began a slow meander back to our vehicle. We spoke in loud voices pretending to notice flowers/plants along the way but whispered in clipped words the need of and how to get out of this possible dangerous situation we were in.

“He’s got a gun,” I whispered to my partners. Now we are scared, as we know pothunters can be very dangerous.

Nervously, we kept walking towards our vehicle. They kept walking towards us.

I noticed a logo over the left side of the man’s t-shirt and I was sure it read POLICE.

“Hey, you are Police. Whew! We are so glad you are here. The area has been hit again.”

He laughingly responded, “A BLM crew called in the vandalism report a few hours ago. We saw you drive up and thought you were going to resume pot hunting. We were sure you were the perps! We have been watching you from atop the hill. We saw the backpacks and flowers on the straw hat. Well, we have never seen a pothunter wear a flowered hat!”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Long Legs

We were at Flaming Gorge, Utah just north of Dutch John. Don’t you love that name? It conjures up the ole Wild West in my mind! Horses and gun slinging cowboys!

We had 15 students in Bonnie’s Archaeology Field School, all brand new to Archaeology. It was our job to teach them the right way.

We had spent days on excavation techniques and it was time to get them out to survey.

I was crew chief for 4 students: 2 tiny young ladies and 2 very long legged young men.

Archaeology survey is a very tight drill. We transect an area spaced about 5 meters apart. Going off track is a real no! No! One is surveying for a reason, to find what is there and plot it correctly.

I had given instructions to my crew about calling out artifacts when they saw them and the need to stay in a tight side-by-side line.

The morning survey went well and I was so proud of them. The ladies had stayed in line to my left and the men to my right doing it just right with a few minor off track instances - those long legs raring to go.

After the lunch break we started up again.

We were in a large, high grass, field near the base of a small knoll. I noticed the 4 long legs were not at my right as they were supposed to be. They had strayed up the knoll about 25 meters from me.

As luck would have it I spotted a grass covered rusty mass to my right. Two long legs should have found it. It was on his transect path.

I called, “Hey, you are too far off track. Come on back”

They responded, “We can see everything from here. We are fine.”

“Then you saw this car!” I called.

Four long legs roared down to the spot, very embarrassed but thrilled with the early 1920’s car that they could not claim as having spotted!

Somehow the 1920’s car didn’t meet my ole Wild West imagination of horses and gun slinging cowboys but it sure made a good strong impression on the 4 legs in survey techniques!