Far Western Crew Unearths 12,300-Year-Old Hearth in Utah

Overview fish eye

Excavation overview of the Wishbone site, Utah. Photo Credit: Todd Cromar

Last summer, a crew of Far Western archaeologists working on the Hill Air Force Base, in compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, sunk a 50-x-50-cm test probe into Utah’s arid ground and turned up something you would not expect to find in the desert: waterfowl bone. These were burned within a Paleoindian hearth now radiocarbon dated to 12,300 calendar years ago.

After exposing the remains, Principal Investigator Dr. Daron Duke, with Senior Archaeologist Sarah Rice, and Senior Geoarchaeologist Dr. D.Craig Young quickly realized they were uncovering evidence of a marshland landscape in the middle of the modern desert and life-ways of North America’s earliest inhabitants never seen before. They had discovered the oldest open-air hearth ever found in the Great Basin and the first known Ice Age camp for hunting and cooking exclusively waterfowl.

Excerpt from Dr. Duke’s field notes July 11, 2016 “Amazing day. Mike L. excavated a pristine Haskett point one cmbs and about 1 meter from the feature…

Excerpt from Dr. Duke’s field notes July 11, 2016
“Amazing day. Mike L. excavated a pristine Haskett point one cmbs and about one meter from the feature…”

In July, meticulous excavation fully exposed the hearth and its surrounding area. The team found thousands more waterfowl bone fragments and several stone tools, including an in situ Haskett projectile point discovered just one centimeter beneath the ground surface and one meter from the hearth.

Soil samples of the hearth’s contents were collected in the field and brought back to the Far Western archaeobotanical laboratory for flotation processing and analysis. The archaeobotanical team recovered charred remains of willow wood, and seeds of bulrush, pond weed, and tobacco. The tobacco seeds are thought to be the oldest ever found in North America, nearly 9,000 years older than previous finds in New Mexico and Bolivia. Archaeobotany Director Dr. Eric Wohlgemuth further elaborates on the implications of these finds:

The charred remains are representative of the ancient environment and the bulrush and pond weed seeds could be waterfowl stomach contents. While willow wood charcoal was found in this context, willow is absent from the local environment today.

Flotation process

Flotation process to recover charred plant remains. Photo Credit: Angela Arpaia

 

A press release of the discovery soon hit the internet entitled, Archaeologists Discover Proof of Wetlands, Ancient Life on the Utah Test and Training Range.

The story was also picked up by Western Digs, an online science news site focusing in archaeology, anthropology, and paleontology of the American West and by Standard-Examiner, a local daily news source in Utah.

 

 

 

Rare Utah Finds Continue to Make News

Western Digs‘ new article “Over 1,000 Ancient Stone Tools, Left by Great Basin Hunters, Found in Utah Desert” cites Far Western’s work in the Utah Test and Training Ranges in 2012. The article mentions the vast assemblage of stone tools found in the Old River Bed Delta of Western Utah—including the largest Haskett Point ever recorded. Daron Duke, Principal Investigator and Director of our Desert Branch, mentions in the article that, regardless of its size, the “Haskett is very rare anywhere.”

“(T)hese finds help clarify a picture that has remained hazy for archaeologists: the life and times of the Great Basin’s earliest inhabitants, who may have been contemporaries of the ancient and widespread Clovis culture.” -Blake de Pastino, Western Digs

Check out the full article and photos HERE.
This find was also mentioned on the website of Archaeology Magazine.

Haskett Point 3D Model Below:

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Monitoring

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Cultural Resources Monitoring

Far Western provides two types of monitoring—construction and site assessment. Construction monitoring consists of an archaeologist—often together with a Native American representative—observing the construction phase of a project to ensure that cultural resources are not inadvertently damaged or destroyed. We have monitored everything from small local building projects to major power and gas line installations, usually in consultation with Native tribes and government agencies. Some of our clients have included Kinder Morgan, Nevada Energy, Liberty Utilities, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service. Big or small, these projects can have tight schedules, and Far Western works closely with construction personnel to keep things on track.

For site assessment monitoring, our archaeologists visit known cultural sites, often over a period of several years, to assess their physical condition and document any new or ongoing impacts that need to be addressed. Such monitoring is often a requirement for federal permits or funding. As an example, we have been hired by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to conduct multi-year monitoring for three different hydroelectric projects in support of their relicensing efforts.

Public Outreach and Interpretation

Public Outreach

Public Outreach and Interpretation

One of our particular talents is the design and production of broadcast-quality films, interpretive signs, brochures, training manuals, and other educational and outreach products. These often serve as mitigation for projects where adverse effects to significant archaeological or historical resources are unavoidable. Our highly skilled team will research and write content; supply original paintings, illustrations, photographs, and maps; and track down archival images, to make our educational and outreach products truly compelling.

To learn more, visit some of our key public outreach projects below:

In the Time when Animals were PeopleIn the Time when Animals were People is a collection of traditional Yokut and Western Mono stories gathered by anthropologists from tribal Elders who could still remember the old times. Those times are gone, but the people and the stories remain.

Creating VyaCreating Vya: The Dream of Dry Farming in Long Valley, Nevada describes the rise and fall of the community of Vya with additional information on Northern Paiute lifeways, early explorers, cattle ranching, and the failed Long Valley Water Project. The book includes numerous photographs by John L. Henry.

Life on the RiverThe book Life on the River – The Archaeology of an Early Native American Culture explains archaeological techniques and discoveries at a Shasta County site, located on the Upper Sacramento River. It documents Wintu lifeways just before and during the arrival of Europeans into the area.

People of the TulesThe Long Road Traveled is a public-oriented document about the Cuyama Valley. The full digital document is available in online-magazine form here. See the 3D Visualization Gallery here.

People of the TulesPeople of the Tules: Archaeology and Prehistory of California’s Great Central Valley presents information about excavations that revealed evidence of environmental and cultural changes. An audio version is available for the visually impaired.

Written on the Land: 10,000 Years of Human History along Marsh CreekWritten on the Land: 10,000 Years of Human History along Marsh Creek. For thousands of years before the Spanish, the Mexicans, or the Americans entered the East Bay/Delta region of California, Native people lived in this beautiful place.

Mountain Harvest: The Use of Pinyon Nuts by the Paiute and Their Ancestors Near Sherwin Summit, California.Mountain Harvest: The Use of Pinyon Nuts by the Paiute and Their Ancestors Near Sherwin Summit, California.

 

Stealing the Sun Stealing the Sun presents an overview of the prehistory of the central Sierra Nevada foothills by combining archaeology and traditional Me-Wuk stories.

 

Pieces of the Puzzle: Archaeologists work along SR 49Looking for Pieces of the Puzzle is a seven-minute video of archaeologists at work along State Route 49, in the Sierra Nevada foothills of western Tuolumne County, California.

Step Back in Time! Archaeology and Prehistory in Sierra Valley Step Back in Time! Archaeology and Prehistory in Sierra Valley highlights work with the Washoe tribe to preserve one of the most important archaeological sites ever found in northern California.

Many Cultures, One LandMany Cultures, One Land, covers the prehistory and historical events that forever changed the lives of the Native peoples in the area.

 

China Lake Rock ArtView spectacular rock art found at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California.

 

GIS and Cartography

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Our highly skilled team uses standardized data collection techniques to maximize data quality, reliability, and usability.

Data Collection

  • We use standardized data collection techniques to maximize data quality, reliability, and usability.
  • We have a variety of mapping-grade GPS units and dedicated field computers to support Far Western field crews.

Mapping

  • We use our collected data to prepare site-specific maps.
  • We integrate a variety of client and public-sourced information for mapping purposes.

Analysis

  • We have expert-level analysts to explore spatial and temporal relationships with GIS data.

Data Management

  • We create usable and manageable database solutions.

Information Presentation and Dissemination

  • We are experienced in a variety of methods for simplifying and delivering complex or unwieldy datasets.

Geoarchaeology


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Understanding archaeological sites and their settings

Our outstanding team of geoarchaeologists plays an integral role in nearly every one of our projects. They have been honored for their innovative studies by the Society for California Archaeology and the California Preservation Foundation.

Regulatory agencies and researchers need to identify buried archaeological sites, or the potential for such sites, early in the environmental compliance process to prevent costly construction delays. Geological work can also be applied to regional sensitivity studies for buried sites, paleoenvironment, site structure and formation, and assessments of integrity.

What we have accomplished:

  • Regional geoarchaeological overviews examine the effects of landform evolution on the visibility of the archaeological record to establish the potential for buried sites. We have mapped about 40% of California, and we’re still mapping!
  • We conduct project-specific, three-dimensional buried site sensitivity assessments by reviewing relevant geologic, soil, geotechnical, and archaeological data to establish a range for buried sites potential (from none to very high).
  • We frequently document site structure to assess site integrity and to identify undisturbed or intact archaeological deposits to be targeted by excavation crews.
  • We can provide a comprehensive site history through identification of both natural and cultural site formation processes.
  • We conduct paleoenvironmental research which has contributed to a growing body of knowledge of climate change and landscape evolution during human occupation.

How we search for and manage buried sites:

  • Within highly sensitive areas, we conduct subsurface geoarchaeological investigations in advance of ground-disturbing activities.
  • In most situations, backhoe trenching is the most effective way to identify sites.
  • In situations where backhoe trenching is not possible (e.g., in urban areas), or the site depth exceeds the range of mechanical excavation, we conduct hydraulic continuous core sampling to identify sites.
  • If a site is identified prior to construction and cannot be avoided, it can be mitigated without impacting critical-path schedules.

Sensitivity and Constraints

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Pre-project planning leads to project success

Giving planners an edge in designing efficient, cost-effective projects, Sensitivity & Constraints studies can be crucial in the early stages of project planning. We use information about known resources in the project vicinity, combined with predictive models based on environmental variables and historical data, to assess or identify project alternatives and their potential to encounter archaeological resources. Far Western relies on a critical team of geoarchaeologists and GIS-based cartographers to develop models suitable in a wide variety of settings. Although not a regulatory requirement, these studies can often identify alternative routes to project success.

Effects Mitigation

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Creative solutions—from data recovery to public outreach

If adverse effects to significant cultural resources cannot be avoided through project design or other means, they must be mitigated in some way. Typically, in consultation with the permitting agency, there are many options including, but not limited to, data recovery through archaeological excavation, development of public interpretation or education programs, or allowing mechanisms for access to traditional resources or values. At Far Western, we pride ourselves on our creative approaches to mitigation. We have carried out literally hundreds of data recovery excavations and developed dozens of interpretive programs, including trail-side exhibits, educational curricula, children’s books, interpretive guides, and more.

Evaluation and Testing


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Assessing the significance of prehistoric, historic, and traditional cultural resources

Not every archaeological site is significant—only those with special cultural, scientific, and/or educational values. Significant sites can represent important events or people, provide examples of great artistic or engineering works, or add to our understanding of life in the past. They also retain good physical integrity and have not been heavily damaged or destroyed. Evaluation of significance involves careful documentation, dating, consideration of research potential, and often consultation with Native Americans and other interested parties. Historic-era sites may also require special archival research. Far Western’s permanent staff includes some of the most respected and experienced researchers in the field, which means that our evaluation recommendations are readily accepted by reviewing agencies.

Inventory

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Cultural Resources Identification and Documentation

Typically the initial step in complying with federal and state regulations regarding cultural resources, Inventory identifies and documents cultural resources (i.e., sites) within a project area. This begins with agency consultation to determine the specific needs and expected project coverage. Records and literature reviews highlight previous cultural resources investigations and sites prior to any necessary field studies. Far Western provides technical expertise to identify and accurately document the wide variety of prehistoric- and historic-era cultural resources that occur throughout western North America. Thorough inventory allows project planning to move forward in a timely manner, avoiding project pitfalls and resulting in regulatory success.