Home on the Range PIT Project
Inyo National Forest, California, 2008
By Crystal West, Archaeologist
(Photos: Home on the Range PIT Volunteers Session 1 and 2)
Session One (September 15-19):
The first day of the project started off with some surprises. While approaching the project area I saw a large plume of dust up ahead and to our amazement found a herd of about 200 sheep, four dogs including two Great Pyrenees, a guard donkey and a Bolivian shepherd who spoke very little English on the site. "Well", I thought, "This is going to be quite an introduction to 'Home on the Range'". Luckily Robert "Bob" Lopez speaks Spanish and was able to communicate with our shepherd and we made a safe passage past the dogs and donkey to our project area. The sheep remained on the archeology site in their "sheep bed" throughout the week and we all got a first hand experience of how grazing is affecting archeology sites in the area.
The first session completed an immense amount of work recording the large prehistoric site that the sheep bed is located on top of. In total we expanded the site, which was originally recorded in 1975 as 22.5 acres, to 70 acres in size. We recorded nine rock ring house features, 24 rock ring pinyon cache features, 17 artifacts including a rare circular pendant made out of Bishop Tuff, four artifact concentrations, with one covering a four-acre area, 20 milling features and milling artifacts, and three rock cairns. The days were at times hot, dry, windy and smokey, but everyone continued to work hard and fell naturally into their roles in each group as rock ring sketch artist, GPS guru, rock ring record recorder, or photographer. By the end of the week I was looking at a very competent group of field archeologists. For our last day we took a field trip to the Volcanic Tablelands outside of Bishop and toured rock art sites and contemplated the meanings of complex circular forms, U-forms, hatch marks and long snouted figures that we guessed might be coyote.
Session Two (October 6-10):
Snow had just dusted the Sierras and as we drove out to the project area from Mammoth. The sky was crisp blue and it smelled of fall with a hint of winter on its way. Two members of the Kuzedika Mono Lake Tribe, Raymond and Charlotte met us out at the project area. Day one was spent touring the site and reviewing what was found during the first session. Raymond and Charlotte provided a new perspective on the site and added first hand experience of how their families collect pinyon pine nuts and built houses in the past. They explained that long, hooked, wooden poles were used to pick the cones from the pinyon pine trees and then when the harvest was finished people would stick the poles up into a tree and leave them for the next harvest. Later in the week Penel made an exciting find when she found one of these exact poles sticking up in a tree near a rock ring house feature.
The second group added to the first group's work and doubled the size of the site to 133 acres in size at close on Thursday afternoon. We recorded six rock ring house features, 13 rock ring cache features, 17 artifacts, five milling features and five artifact concentrations, the largest being 2 + acres in size. We toured the Casa Diablo obsidian source with Nicholas Faust, retired North Zone Archeologist for the Inyo as our guide. On a blustery Friday we continued the "Tour de Nicholas" to sites in Adobe Valley east of Mono Lake and saw an obsidian quarry site in the Glass Mountain Range and briefly stepped into Nevada to visit a beautiful site where obsidian from the Truman-Queen obsidian quarry was used. As we traveled back toward Mammoth, the first winter storm hit the Sierra and by the time we arrived at Hwy 395 the road was covered in snow. Luckily, our tireless minivan made the trek and we all made it back safely to a winter wonderland in the Sierra.
Site 53-576 was expanded to 133 acres in size and still seems to be moving north and west a bit. In total the two sessions recorded nine artifact concentrations, 34 artifacts (including a bishop tuff pendant and pinyon pine "beating" pole), 25 milling features, 37 rock ring cache features and 15 rock ring house features. I was very pleased by the outcome of this project and hope to continue to do PIT projects in the summers to come.