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Archeology & the outdoor enthusiast

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POSTED May 6, 2013 12:41 a.m.

Last week, I discussed antiques that the outdoor enthusiast might find incidentally while hunting, angling, or exploring old ghost towns.

Finding tools and household items left behind by the miners, loggers and farmers that turned a wilderness into a modern nation over a span of just a few hundred years is indeed fascinating. Perhaps even more fascinating is finding the relics left behind by the original inhabitants of our nation, the Native American Indian tribes that occupied the land for thousands of years before the arrival of the white man and his “Civilization”. I once heard an interesting observation that before the arrival of the white man, there were no taxes, and the people hunted and fished all the time. Then the white man arrived with his “Civilization” it kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

As an outdoors enthusiast, you are regularly out walking in relatively unexplored places and keeping your eyes open for archeological finds is a natural extension of your hunting, fishing and hiking. . Ancient artifacts can be found in almost any outdoor habitat from arrowheads that you might find in the high mountain forests. To a stone metate and mano embedded in the bed of a dry lake in the Great Basin. You can collect Indian pottery in the southwest, beaded baskets in the Northwest and stunning weavings in the pueblos.

I have literally stepped over a razor sharp obsidian knife on the way to a trout fishing hotspot, and stumbled across a vast bedrock mortar with hundreds of holes ground into the granite. Lying in many of the mortar holes were dozens of stone pestles left behind as though someone blew a whistle for a lunch break five hundred years ago and the work crew never returned. In caves lining the Great Basin in Nevada, Idaho, Utah, amd Arizona amateur archeologists found duck decoys woven from tules that had real duck skins stretched over them approximately 20,000 years ago.  Alongside the decoys were woven sandals, sleeping mats, and an amazing technological device called an atlatl.

While it is fairly common to take down deer, antelope, and even bison using bows and arrows, to kill a huge animal as big as an elephant a larger, more powerful, weapon the spear is needed.

One of the problems with using a hand held spear to kill a huge beast like a wooly mammoth is that you have to get very close to stab your quarry with your spear. Getting that close to a monstrous animal could get you killed. Some where in the dim mists of time someone invented the atlatl which was a tool made of wood or bone that acted as a lever and allowed a human to throw a spear much harder and farther than he could without one. There is a credible theory among archeologists that it was the invention of the atlatl that allowed puny humans to kill off all the mammoths until they became extinct. If you really keep your eyes open while exploring Great Basin caves. You might even find an atlatl yourself.

Archeological artifacts may be all around you if you take the time to look for them. Last week, I discussed the value of perusing old maps because sometimes they contain information that the newer maps no longer display. Jackass Junction for example in the heart of San Joaquin County isn’t found on modern maps.  Before the arrival of the white man it was an Indian village along one of the many valley creeks. If you ask an old timer, however or an old drunk, you might learn that Jackass Junction became a stagecoach stop along the main road to the southern gold fields.  Many a mule skinner wet his whistle at Jackass Junction while hauling passengers and supplies along the dusty road to the gold country.  The advent of the steam locomotive and the railroads turned the roadside pub into a train station called Turner Station.  As near as I can tell, there is nothing left of either Jackass Junction or its successor, Turner Station. There are however, still artifacts of the prehistoric Native Americans who resided there before the beginning of recorded history. If you know what to look for, you can still find fish net weights and baked clay cooking stones in the waters of the creek.

Archeology for the outdoors enthusiast can add a completely new dimension to your enjoyment of the outdoors. It can give you a better appreciation of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the people who came before us and make your outdoor excursions far more interesting. While most of us aren’t going to take years out of our lives to get a degree in archeology, we can take a course or two at the local community college or university, or even stop by our local library and begin reading books on archeology and local history.  It’s fascinating and adds greatly to our understanding of the great outdoors and to our own past.

Until Next Week,

Tight Lines

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