August 14, 2017


On May 19, 1904, Joseph Peterson started to dig a trench through the West Berkeley mound, one of the oldest and largest prehistoric shell mounds in Central California. Paid with funding from Phoebe Hearst, he was following the steps of P. M. Jones, E. Furlong and Max Uhle to become one of the earliest field archaeologist to work on behalf of the recently established museum of anthropology. In addition to the excavation at the West Berkeley mound, he was dispatched to an handful of places in the San Francisco Bay area to salvage archaeological materials disturbed by building or road constructions. All these efforts resulted in over 250 catalog records.
It was a busy spring semester, perhaps unexpectedly so, for a 27-year old schoolteacher from Snowflake, Arizona, who had arrived at UC Berkeley just a few months earlier to pursue a degree in Anthropology. Peterson ended up spending only one or two full semesters at Berkeley and by the fall of 1904, he and his family had gone back to Snowflake where his old job was waiting. Leaving Berkeley behind, however, did not sever his ties with archaeology and his academic mentor Alfred Kroeber. In January 1905, Peterson responded to a letter from Kroeber and a plan to begin an exploration of the many ancient ruins around Snowflake began to take shape:
In reply will say that I’ll furnish you the information required as soon as possible. I can give you a rough map of the ruins in this vicinity from memory. It will be useless to visit any of the ruins at present as snow covers the ground to a depth of about 6 inches with no prospects of disappearing for some time.
Kroeber also asked Peterson to gather information on the whereabouts of other expeditions in the area:
With respect to Dr. Palmer’s intentions I can give nothing definite as the last time I saw him I had not received your first letter. I may be able to glean some information from parties who were with him. I was unable to find any of them yesterday. [...]. As far as intruding on his ground is concerned, I think there is sufficient material to avoid this, other than in a general way. Especially is this so if the leading idea or object in view differs. Shall need no funds until we can decide on plans.
Frank Palmer was a Californian antiquarian who, despite a lack of training, had been tasked by the Southwest Society (a branch of the American Institute of Archaeology) to organize an expedition in Arizona. The underlying scope of the project was to collect high-quality artifacts to be exhibited in a new public museum in Los Angeles. While arguably competing for the same treasures Kroeber had a more academic attitude about it. Palmer and other collectors of the time were amateurs, with no proper training in field methodology and, in his words, did little to "bring out points new to science". For the latter to happen amateurs like Palmer should be replaced by trained archaeologists, like Peterson.

Hearst Museum 2-9577
bowl with snake design
Arizona, Navajo County, near Showlow
Collected by Joseph Peterson, 1908

Kroeber was very interested in the archaeological record of the southwestern United States, more so than he was about California archaeology. One of the reasons was that Ancient Pueblo people were farmers and had domesticated animals, they built permanent villages with large buildings that would indicate a level of social complexity that was not yet recognized for hunter-gatherers. Ancient Pueblo people also had a rich tradition of pottery making, and shapes and decorations could be used to distinguish different cultural traditions and to create chronological sequences. California Indians, with few exceptions, didn't rely on domesticated species and while they used clay to create figurines, pipes and other objects, they did not make pottery. That was enough evidence to persuade Kroeber that the lifestyle of California Indians had remained substantially unchanged for thousands of years. He expressed this conviction by dismissing Uhle's interpretation of culture change at Emeryville and, as Heizer recalled years later, effectively limiting archaeological research in Central California by channelling most of the department budget to ethnographic research. But with Peterson in Arizona, Kroeber saw an opportunity to directly acquire valuable archaeological collections for a relatively low cost and with far superior provenience information that those received by exchange with other institutions or those from Phoebe Hearst personal collections.

Hearst Museum 2-9826
paint mortar
Arizona, Navajo County, near Snowflake
Collected by Joseph Peterson, 1907

Kroeber had high expectations for the Arizona project but Peterson could only partially fit the image of a professional field archaeologist. This was not for lack of enthusiasm, however. Between 1906 and 1908, Peterson explored and collected objects from about 25 ruins that likely dated between the 9th and 11th century AD. His notes about provenience and the relationship between objects, features, rooms and burials are well written but ultimately lacking in details and it is unknown if he took any photos while at work. He knew, however, Kroeber's appetite for all things that fit the image of prehistoric farmers and he didn't fail to please his mentor as these clips about turkeys and corn nicely illustrate:
Turkey bones are found in the ruins lower down the river than this game ever comes at present day, and it is reasonable to assume that turkeys were domesticated. I have now on hand a few specimens including 15 or 20 crocks, as many stone specimens, and about 40 smaller articles. I have the complete skeleton of a turkey evidently buried with rites, and about 8 human skeletons.
I enclose under separate cover a stalk of wheat the history of it as reported to me as follows. A party in the Grand Caňon region found in a small vase a few shrunken kernels. How long they had been there is not known as the vase was taken from a ruin. The people who gave me the stalk stated that they received only five of those shrunken kernels from which after three years time they have produced their patch of a few square rods. As I had never seen wheat similar to the specimen I thought I would try at least to find out if it is a common form or if it is something new. The story of its retaining its fertility throughout centuries seems incredible yet the owners gave me the story as a fact.

Hearst Museum 2-8861
Collected by Joseph Peterson, 1906

The letters Peterson wrote to Kroeber tell the story of genuine anthropological fervor not supported by adequate resources and budget as his frequent concerns about shipping charges seem to indicate. The collection includes about 850 catalog records; a substantial number and yet it pales compared to the amount of material amassed by earlier and contemporary expeditions to the Southwest that are now scattered in many museums. The fast-paced spoiling of ancient ruins in many parts of the country led to the Antiquity Act of 1906, something that Peterson acknowledged in a letter as a cause for delays in his plan to explore certain ruins. He never received a permit to work on public land and the project came to an end in July 1908 with Peterson promising to send more maps and reports but the correspondence ends there.
Despite any shortcomings, the Peterson collection was a great achievement and it remains as a testimony of the early days of archaeology as an academic discipline; it was never published but it was exhibited multiple times over the decades. We know that Joseph Peterson traveled to California in 1934: perhaps he had a chance to see his objects in the museum's old Southwest Hall in San Francisco.

P.S. Imagine my surprise when one afternoon few weeks ago a colleague came to tell me that there were visitors in the galleries who said they were Peterson's relatives and they were asking about the collection. I ran upstairs to meet them and we talked for a little bit. The memory of their grandfather days as an archaeologist for UC Berkeley is still alive and so is the connection between them and the Hearst Museum. It was an incredible chance to ask them about old photographs of the excavations that may still be in their possession. If they ever find them I hope they will consider donating them to the museum where they will accompany the Peterson Collection for the next 110 years.

November 4, 2015


Philip Mill Jones may well be the least celebrated archaeologist of the early age of the discipline in California. Few months ago I gave a small presentation about the museum and I learned that many young students were not familiar with his name. Indeed in 1956 Heizer and Elsasser had noted that while the Uhle's (Peru) and the Reisner's (Egypt) collections became well-known among scholars and students, Jones contribution had been (as of 1956) little recognized. Between 1899 and 1901, P. M. Jones was appointed by Mrs. Hearst to conduct field investigation, mostly in California, but in other parts of Western North America as well. Jones was a medical doctor, not an archaeologist. Perhaps for that reason he was primarily interested in ancient Indian burials but he had a keen sense of the scientific nature of his enterprise and pioneered the use of photographs and field notes in California archaeology.

Adobe Holes; top of Mound # 5, showing trench commenced. Man at extreme end of mound
Hearst Museum Archaeological Archives.
Photo by Philip M. Jones, 1901

Jones spent the early months of 1901 on Santa Rosa Island where he investigated thirty five ancient sites that resulted in vast archaeological assemblages now curated in Berkeley. He wasn't the first one but most of the earlier collectors could be classified simply as looters. Many other archaeological expeditions expanded on Jones' findings in the following decades but a comprehensive body had not yet been produced. Indeed, in his review of Archaeological Investigations on Santa Rosa Island in 1901, William J. Wallace hinted that the editors [Heizer and Elsasser] could have done better justice to Jones' collections from Santa Rosa Island by reevaluating them in light of more recent discoveries rather than limit themselves to transcribe his diaries and field notes. These manuscripts are incredibly valuable and yet disappointing from a modern archaeological standpoint given the lack of drawings and more detailed photographs. They are, however, very descriptive of all aspects of the expeditions. Among other details we know that the crew often operated under bad weather conditions and that Jones himself was frequently feeling sick from cold and flu. Rain, strong winds and fog are mentioned often in his pages. One day in February the crew couldn't leave for the fields because the fog was so thick they could not locate their horses! Many years ago I found myself in a foggy situation when my teammates had to walk next to the car to help me drive along a narrow and steep trail on our way to a cave.

Jones' Horses in Guadalupe, California
Hearst Museum Archaeological Archives.
Photo by Philip M. Jones (?), 1901

I personally find unfortunate that many years later (1972) Robert Heizer decided to dust off Jones' collection to produce another small volume titled California oldest historical relic? The subject of this little pamphlet was a stone slab collected on Santa Rosa Island, which he postulated could be Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo gravestone. It isn't. The main argument is that Cabrillo died on San Miguel Island and he was likely buried there. Afterward the fleet sailed north and reached Oregon before returning to Mexico ending an expedition that most contemporaries considered a failure. They didn't return to Santa Rosa Island: how did the slab travel there?
Philip Mills Jones was not aware of the carvings; he collected this and other similar slabs and thought they were produced and used by Indians, not White explorers or early settlers. Would he collect the slab if he thought it belong to Cabrillo's grave? There is no answer to that question but Jones wasn't necessarily interested in historic, non native, sites. He was also not a scam artist and it is hard to imagine why, in his long prologue about the discovery of the stone, Heizer hinted at the possibility that the slab could be part of an elaborate hoax orchestrated by Jones. It wasn't, of course, and his legacy did not deserve the casting of such doubts many years after his death.

Hearst Museum 1-5086
Southern California, Channel Islands, Santa Rosa Island
Collected by Philip M. Jones, 1901

March 11, 2015


Eugene A. Golomshtok came to the United States from Russia in 1918, perhaps because of the recent revolution, and received his bachelor degree at Berkeley in December 1922. Since the Fall 1921 Golomshtok is seldom employed by the museum and the records show that he worked in Monterey, Tehama and Shasta counties where he collected archaeological assemblages complemented by a small selection of ethnographic objects and photographs. Some of his early findings were noted by Alfred Kroeber who wrote to the landowner in 1922:
"I was greatly interested in some broken pieces of pottery that Mr. Golomshtok found in Cypress Point. It is too crude and irregular to be of American or of Mexican make, and on the other hand, there has been no previous authentic report of pottery having been manufactured by the Indians of the region"
Despite Kroeber's interest, Golomshtok experience at Berkeley ended in the fall of 1925 and the museum didn't undertake any further archaeological work in the sites he discovered.

Hearst Museum 1-23591
California, Monterey County, CA-Mnt-159
Collected by Eugene A. Golomshtok, 1921

Hearst Museum 1-23556
spear point, broken
California, Monterey County, CA-Mnt-159
Collected by Eugene A. Golomshtok, 1921

An interesting contribution for the 2014 Day of Archaeology tells that Golomshtok was affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1930 to around 1938, a period he used to travel several times back to Russia on archaeological and ethnographic expeditions. Pre-war times were a period of turmoil in Europe and despite more than one agreement between Germany and Russia, he was no longer able to secure a working visa after 1934.
He spent the following years reading all possible Russian archaeological literature available in the United States and, in 1938, published The Old Stone Age in European Russia that he hoped to be especially useful to those who did not know the Russian language. Golomshtok' thorough survey was highly praised by many reviewers, notably by Sir Gordon Child, but surprisingly it remained the last of his publications. Eugene Golomshtok died in 1950.

July 30, 2014


This is not a pipe.

Hearst Museum 1-243044
United States; California
Collected by Paul Ruedrich

July 15, 2014


When the Department of Anthropology was established in 1901, Professor F. W. Putnam and Professor J. C. Merriam had already conceived the Early Man project; which aimed to add more data to the understanding of the timing of the initial peopling of California and the New World. Before the advent of radiocarbon or other absolute dating methods, the age of Paleolithic sites was inferred through the presence of ancient animals, great depth of the deposit from the surface, or the perceived crudeness of ancient tools.
Between 1899 and 1902, P. M. Jones worked in the Tulare Valley and the Coast between Santa Barbara and Monterey. Putnam, W. J. Sinclair and Merriam studied the Calaveras caves where there was a possible association between extinct fauna and evidence of human activities.
The McCloud River area and Shasta county were also considered important due to earlier discoveries of potentially very old remains "at least several thousands of years." The Department of Anthropology sent two archaeologists in 1902, E. L. Furlong and Sinclair, along with Merriam to excavate a trench in the lower chamber of Potter Creek Cave. The cave is located along the eastern edge of the McCloud River at about 1,500 feet above sea level. It is one of the earliest and most important prehistoric locations investigated by the Hearst Museum. The deposit extended more than 80 inches below surface, an indication the archaeologists took for the great antiquity of the lowest levels. Nearby Samwel Cave was also partially explored the same year. By 1904, Potter Creek and Samwel caves were timely published and Putnam was already looking forward new discoveries:

Besides these two caves there are many other localities, both caves and rock-shelters, where remains occur in this region. Their study offers perhaps the best opportunity that there is for determining the time human first entered this region.


Hearst Museum 1-24327
polished bone
California, Shasta county, Potter Creek Cave
Collected by E. L. Furlong and W. J. Sinclair, 1902


Hearst Museum 1-24325
polished bone
California, Shasta county, Potter Creek Cave
Collected by E. L. Furlong and W. J. Sinclair, 1902

By 1903-1904, Furlong was already a veteran of the archaeological excavations for the museum. By then he had been involved in the excavations of the West Berkeley Shellmound (CA-Ala-307), Hawver Cave (CA-Eld-16) and the Emeryville Shellmound (CA-Ala-309) among other sites. He didn't write or publish much, but left very good notes and drawings of his excavations. The Hearst accounts for about 800 records collected by Furlong.

June 18, 2014


The California Central Valley is one place I truly enjoy to visit. The flat landscape, the humid summer heat, old villages and isolated country houses remind me of the Po' river Valley, in north Italy, where I grew up. A few months ago we traveled through the Central Valley on our way back home from the annual meeting of the Society for California Archaeology. A few miles to the north of San Joaquin lies the small town of Tranquillity and true to its name it was deserted and quiet.

outskirts of Tranquillity, CA (2014)

In 1939, Gordon W. Hewes and William C. Massey walked through the fields around Tranquillity as part of the archaeological survey of the central San Joaquin Valley. They came across a small exposed surface where stone tools and other implements were in close proximity to the remains of large mammals like horses, antelopes, elks, bison and camelops. The discovery of Tranquillity stirred a lot of interest around the country because such old sites are very rare, especially in California. North American camels became extinct around 11.000 years ago; Paleolithic hunters accelerated a process that started with the warmer post-glacial weather and the gradual disappearance of the grassland these large animals thrived on.
The climate in this part of the Central Valley is similar to the Mojave desert, low annual rainfall and shrub vegetation with sparse trees along sloughs and swamps. Under the shade of these trees a small group of hunter-gatherers established a small hut perhaps as far back as the early Holocene. Then, for thousands of years, they regularly went back to this corner of the Valley to gather seeds, tubers and grasses, they hunted animals of all sizes though not many birds nor fish. Eventually they built more permanent houses and stayed there for longer periods of time.
Perhaps they didn't kill the camelops and the proximity with the tools is coincidental; an on-going research project is expected to add some clear chronological information. Even if they didn't have to engage those large creatures the people that lived at Tranquillity had their fair share of hard work: fractured ribs, hernias and various forms of arthritis tell a story of abundance that did not come without an effort.
Below are four spear points from the Tranquillity site. The third from the left was fractured by an impact, carried back to the village and discarded in the fire. The reddish coloration is due to the intense heat.

Hearst Museum 1-61917, 1-61918, 1-61919, 1-61920
California, Fresno county, Tranquillity site
Collected by Gordon W. Hewes, 1942

January 7, 2014


The Hearst Museum has been closed for over one year now. The cause behind this closure was the opportunity to renovate the exhibit galleries and the Kroeber Hall basement. For the latter to happen safely staff, interns and volunteers have been working to inventory and curate all the objects currently housed in the basement. The bulk of the archaeological collections include the assemblages from Nevada and the Great Basin. Few weeks ago we inventoried the content of few cabinets Robert Heizer used to store his research collections. Among other specimen there were about hundred coprolites, leftovers from his research on dietary patterns among prehistoric Indians. 
Featured today are two of those coprolites, both from animals and collected at Lovelock cave, Nevada. 

Hearst Museum TEMP 2013.
coprolite, coyote (?)
Nevada, Churchill county, Lovelock cave

Dessicated feces are among the best finds archaeologists can hope for. They can provide information about diet, travel, hunting and gathering strategies and the environment. The dry conditions in Nevada provided a great environment for their preservation and the Hearst Museum curates hundreds of them.
Between 1967 and 1969, Heizer and colleagues sampled and analyzed hundreds of coprolites mainly from Nevada with samples from Utah, Kentucky, Peru and Mexico. Some samples were re-hydrated using a solution of trisodium phosphate in glass jars. During disaggregation they suggested to use a screw-cap lid, tight, as the odor was disagreeable. Part of the sample was then sieved and analyzed, the rest was placed back in glass jars for future research. Last week one of the conservators opened one of those jars. I wasn't there but I heard that the smell is still surprisingly vile.

Hearst Museum TEMP 2013.
coprolite, bear (?)
Nevada, Churchill county, Lovelock cave

In his 1970 publication, Heizer complained that too few scientists joined his effort as many samples that were sent around were neither analyzed nor returned. When is possible, the Hearst Museum is contacting the institutions that loaned the specimen to ask if they want them returned but like 40 years ago I do not expect many enthusiastic responses, especially for the liquid leftovers.

October 17, 2013


In 1973 the Hearst Museum received a small figurine of a bull and a miniature pot. They date to around 2,500 B.C. and are two of six similarly small objects collected in 1935 by a U.C. linguistics professor at Chanhu-daro, Pakistan. That was also the year the ancient mound was excavated for the first time. Chanhu-daro, along with Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, is one of the urban settlements of what is known as the Indus Civilization, which flourished between modern day Pakistan and Western India during the Bronze age (3,600-1,200 B.C.).

Hearst Museum # 9-12204
figurine of a bull, clay
Asia, Pakistan, Indus Valley, Chanhu-daro
Collected (purchased) by Murray B. Emaneau

Despite all efforts, Indus texts remain unreadable, but archaeological evidence tells us that cities like Chanhu-daro were well-planned, capable of sheltering additional populations from nearby towns when needed. By the 3rd millennium B.C., its citizens enjoyed a carefully planned and laid out drainage system that served all the houses in the city. Toilets! The 1937 publication indicates that small objects were occasionally found in the ancient plumbing, but nothing of great value to the residents. Lodged in one cesspit, however, a human skull was found, prompting the researcher to suggest that the individual was evidently murdered and his head disposed in a 'hard-to-find' place.

Hearst Museum # 9-12208
Miniature clay jar, traces of red paint on exterior
Asia, Pakistan, Indus Valley, Chanhu-daro
Collected (purchased) by Murray B. Emaneau

Chanhu-daro didn't grow as big as other urban centers, yet it was home to thousands of men and women living in rather close quarters. A certain level of violence is certainly to be expected, but new research published by the National Geographic indicate that, by the 2nd millennium B.C., high numbers of individuals suffered serious injuries or death by violent means. This stands in apparent contrast with the classic Indus iconography, which lacks images of war, soldiers, or killing.

A different kind of violence, however, led many of these cities to be slowly abandoned. Flooding episodes of the Indus river caused damage to walls, streets, and other infrastructure.  At least five major inundations forced the abandonment of the city for long periods of time, and the last group to settle on the mound in 2000 B.C. had little in common with the original Harappan population.


In February 1972, professor J. Desmond Clark and his student, Andrew Smith, were visiting the Republic of Mali where Smith had started the excavation of some prehistoric villages and workshops in the Tilemsi Valley. The results of those excavations were to be included in his 1974 doctoral dissertation. During that winter they worked at the prehistoric site at Lagraich and collected this bead-making set. It includes 47 objects from a workshop where agate was worked into small circular beads that were then polished and perforated. In addition to the beads, Clark and Smith collected the artisan's tools: drills, scrapers, burins and cores all made with high quality flint.

Hearst Museum # 5-10674
agate beads and bead-making tools
Africa; Mali; Lagraich workshop #1
Collected by Andrew Smith and J. Desmond Clark, 1972

The Tilemsi Valley and its archaeological record are significant because it is one of the earliest places in sub-Saharan West Africa where a pastoral economy is recorded. In Africa, domestic cattle are dated to about 8000 BP in southern Egypt but domesticated millet and grains are dated much later. How pastoralism and farming spread across Africa appear to be a more complex process than in Europe and the Tilemsi Valley is a key place for our understanding of it.

Hearst Museum # 5-12268
drilled bone pendant
Africa, Mali, Karkarinchinkat
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

Lagraich is located about 20 miles east of Karkarinchinkat, another prehistoric village dated at 2200-1360 B.C. A larger excavation allowed the collection of thousands of diverse artifacts; pots, stone tools, seeds, figurines, faunal remains, soil samples, pendants, charcoals, awls, shells and beads . In this collection it is noticeable that semi-precious stones were not the only medium for crafting items of personal adornment and, likely, trade. Beads, pendants and necklaces were also made with shells, bones and clay. According to some authors, characteristic pottery decoration at Karkarinchinkat was determined to be a type on its own.
In 2006, a team from Cambridge University undertook excavations at the site of Karkarinchinkat. Similarly to Smith, they came across a few human burials, analyzed them and published their results in 2008. They found the earliest evidence of teeth filing for aesthetic purposes, in Africa and possibly worldwide. More specifically, the people who lived at Karkarinchinkat in the third millenium B.C. intentionally modified their canines and incisors to a pointed shape. This type of dental modification is not documented in historic or modern groups in the region but is present in the south (Angola and South African groups).  For more information visit:

Hearst Museum # 5-12275
stone bead
Africa; Mali; Karkarinchinkat
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

The material culture and biological record indicate that the Tilemsi Valley must have been an  interesting place to travel to 4000 years ago. The nature of the sites and the objects collected indicate a high degree of sedentism and domestication was a major component of the local economy, supplemented by limited hunting and the exploitation of river resources. The landscape was much greener than today. Possibly as a result of this situation, these tribes developed specific crafts and a sense of aesthetic that was reflected in items for personal adornment such as beads and pendants, high quality stone tools and blanks, a characteristic ceramic style and most likely textiles and basketry. People who traveled to the valley in the Late Stone Age could probably recognize that they had arrived by looking at the inhabitants clothing and couture. Anyone approaching the Tilemsian would see their pointed teeth and know with certainty that they are in the right place. It is likely they also displayed tattoos and piercing.

Hearst Museum # 5-12232
bone awl
Africa; Mali; Karkarinchinkat
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

December 7, 2011

Archaeology in the 19th century

We cannot determine all the uses to which primitive man must have put his rude and ineffective weapons; we can only wonder that with such he was able to maintain his existence among the savage beasts by which he was surrounded; and we long to form to ourselves some picture of the way in which he got the better of their huge strength as well as of his dwelling place, his habits, and his appearance. Rude as his weapons are, and showing no trace of improvement, it seems as though man of the drift period must have lived through long ages of the world's history. These implements are found associated with the remains of the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros, animals naturally belonging to the arctic or semi arctic climate which succeeded the glacial era; but like implements are found associated with the remains of the bones of the lion the tiger and the hippopotamus all of which, and the last especially, are rarely found outside the torrid zone. This would imply that the drift implements lasted through the change from a frigid to a torrid climate and probably back again to a cold temperate one. Still the age of the drift implements does not seem to comprise the whole period of man's life before what is called the polished stone age begins.

Hearst Museum # 7-4881
handaxe; brown flint
England; Swanscombe
Collected by the British Museum of Natural History, unknown date 

There is a remarkable series of discoveries made in caves in various parts of Europe which are of a more interesting character than the drift remains and appear to carry us farther down in the history of man. These caves are natural caverns generally formed in the limestone rocks and at present the most remarkable finds have been obtained from the caves of Devonshire, of the Department of the Dordogne in France, from various caves in Belgium, and from a very remarkable cavern in the Neanderthal near Dusseldorf in Germany; but there is scarcely any country in Europe where some caves containing human bones and weapons have not been opened. The rudest drift implements seem older than almost any of those found in caves and on the whole the cave remains seem to give us a picture of man in a more civilized condition. They show us more of his way of life and a greater variety in his implements which are made not of stone only but of wood and bone as well. We have various worked bone implements harpoons with many barbs whereby no doubt man slew the animals which afforded him food and clothing. Some implements of stone and bone which have been found in caves have been called arrow heads; but they are in all probability lance heads, for it seems doubtful whether these primitive men had made the great discovery of the use of the bow and arrow. We may imagine that their lance or harpoon was their great weapon; and a curious and close inquiry has discovered by the marks on some of the animal bones which are found mixed up with the cave implements, that the sinews had been cut from these bones, and used, it may be conjectured as thongs for the bone harpoons. Other implements of a more domestic character have been found - bone awls, doubtless for piercing the animals' skins that they might be sewn together with sinew thread, and bone knives and needles.

Hearst Museum # 7-3783
Lump of flint flakes and bone fragments in breccia
France; Dordogne; Cavern of Les Eyzies
Collected by the University of California Paleontology Department, 1963

What is still more interesting than all these, we here find the rudiments of art. Some of the bone implements as well as some stones are engraved or even rudely sculptured generally with the representation of an animal. These drawings are singularly faithful and really give us a picture of the animals which were man's contemporaries upon the earth so that we have the most positive proof that man lived the contemporary of animals long since extinct. The cave of La Madeleine in the Dordogne, for instance, contained a piece of a mammoth's tusk engraved with an outline of that animal; and as the mammoth was probably not contemporaneous with man during the latter part even of the old stone age this gives an immense antiquity to the first dawnings of art. How little did the scratcher of this rough sketch - for it is not equal in skill to which have been found in other caves - dream of the interest his performance would thousands of years after his death! Not greatest painter of subsequent times, and scarcely the greatest sculptor, can hope for near an approach to immortality for their works. Had man's bones been only found juxtaposition with those of the mammoth his contemporary animals, this might possibly have been attributed to chance of the soil, to the accumulation river deposits, or to many other accidental occurrences; or had the mammoth's bone only been found worked by man, there was nothing positive to show that the animal had not been long since extinct, and this a chance bone which had come into the hands of a later inhabitant of the earth, just as it has since into our hands; but the actual drawing of this old-world, and as it sometimes almost seen fabulous, animal by one who actual saw him in real life, gives a strange picture the antiquity of our race, and withal a feeling of fellowship with this stone-age man who drew so much in the same way as a clever child among us might have drawn to-day.

Hearst Museum # 7-202
scratched bone
France, Dordogne, La Madeleine
Collected by the Musee de Toulouse, unknown date

Excerpts from:
THE DAWN OF HISTORY: An introduction to pre-historic study.
Edited by C. F. Keary M.A. of the British Museum
Humboldt Publishing Co., 1883

March 26, 2011

Pounders and quern

Before their visit to the town of Meroë, the African Expedition stopped to a less known locality, which was recorded by Henry Field with this paragraph in the 1949 Chronicles: 
About 2.5 miles slightly south of west of Hagar el-Mirwa our Rubatabi guide led us to a large ruined site, referred to on the map and locally as El Koneisa ("The Church"). Here thousands of sherds covered the continuous low mounds. We also collected many quartz pounders and a few fragmentary querns. The newly appointed Commissioner for Archeology, Peter L. Shinnie, who identified the pottery as third-fourth century Meroitic, deduced that this was no Christian church. The outer wall was of irregular outline with maximum dimensions of approximately 150 x 100 meters. The raised structure, now but rubble, in the northeast corner may have served as a watch-tower. Excavation would probably yield but little of significance except the ground plan.

Featured today are a few of the quartz pounders and one quern.
Peter L. Shinnie, who replaced A. J. Arkell as Commissioner for Archaeology and Anthropology in 1947, published many books and articles on his work in Sudan. It would be interesting to know if he agreed with Field upon the minor value of excavating El Koneisa or if the site was ever probed. Among the rubble Henry Field and colleagues noticed some petroglyps and despite their relevant weight they shipped two fragments to Berkeley. You can see them here.

Hearst Museum # 5-1006
Pounders, quartz
Africa; Sudan; El Koneisa
Collected by UC African Expedition, 1947-1948

Hearst Museum # 5-1021
Quern, fragment
Africa; Sudan; El Koneisa
Collected by UC African Expedition, 1947-1948

March 4, 2011


The ancient town of Meroë, in Sudan, had already been excavated for about thirty-five years when the University of California African Expedition was leaving Egypt and moving south through Sudan. In his 1949 chronicles, the anthropologist Henry Field wrote:
     during a brief stop at Meroë, we took some photographs and collected a series of sherds.
This fragment of a large decorated vessel is one of the sixty fragments that were collected from the surface that day. In the footnotes, Field specified that this town was:
     not to be confused with Merowe (Napata) on the bend of the Nile. [John] Garstang, who excavated here from 1909 to 1914, found the Temple of Amun, the baths and Temple of Aspert (circa 590 B.C.) and the Temple of the Sun mentioned by Herodotus. Reisner (1920-1925) excavated a cemetery of brick pyramids used about 355-300 B.C.
The origin of both towns is with the Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt whose pharaohs were Nubians and briefly ruled in the 8th century B.C. They left a trail of inscriptions where they portray themselves as the custodians of an "Egyptian" identity that they felt was being diluted by Asian influence. Their military enterprises against the Assyrians, however, failed to gain them a decisive victory and they were eventually defeated and driven back to their homeland. In the following centuries the capital - Napata - lost most of its appeal. Without the labor and skills of Egyptian artisans, the city infrastructures and bureaucracy started to crumble and the common people went quietly back to the previous way of life. The final demise of Napata as a power center is still matter of research.
Reisner's opinion was that the Meroitic culture was merely a continuation of the Napatan, originating after the transfer of the capital to Meroë and still unable to stop the decline of its past fortune. He dated the rise of the Meroitic kingdom to 308 B.C. but he also believed that  Nubian kings would return to be buried at Napata, which remained their sacred cradle for many decades afterward.
His interpretation and chronology had been variously challenged by other historians. One line of criticism came from the reading of Herodotus whose Histories have no mention of Napata while he wrote about "the great city of Meroë which is said to be the capital of the other Ethiopians (II, 29)". Since Herodotus was writing around 450 B.C. it made more sense to them to favor the establishment of Meroë as the royal palace and burial ground at 538 B.C.

One potsherd can tell a very long story.

Hearst Museum # 5-1004
Africa; Sudan; Meroë
Collected by UC African Expedition 1947-1948

John Garstang's field notes and collections are curated at the Garstang Museum of Archaeology, University of Liverpool. 

February 26, 2011


Yesterday, one of our volunteers was very excited to learn that the PAHMA curates some of the oldest stone tools ever fabricated. Coincidentally, two of them were briefly featured two years ago for the University Cal-Day event. Before presenting them here I would like to sincerely thank our many volunteers without whose work many projects at the museum would simply not happen.

This chopper from the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania was dated to 1.8 million years ago. It was likely made by Homo abilis that is considered to be the first tool-maker. The Oldowan tradition will continue until 800.000 years ago overlapping in places with the later and more elaborate Acheulean tools.

Hearst Museum 5-1997
Chopper or bashing stone, quartz
Tanzania, Olduvai Gorge, Site FLK I
Collected by J. Desmond Clark, September 1960.

The hand-axe, also from the gorge, was dated to 1 million years ago and attributed to the Early Acheulean. Similar hand-axes were originally crafted by Homo ergaster/erectus as early as 1.5 million years ago. A few millennia later they accompanied him in his early forays to the Middle East and Europe where they represent the oldest evidence of human presence outside of Africa.

Hearst Museum 5-7826
Hand axe, nephelenite lava
Tanzania, Olduvai Gorge, Site KRK-III or IV, surface
Collected by Richard L. Hay, 1962 or 1964.

Below you can read the short text that accompanied the objects in the gallery with a philosophical commentary. 

February 4, 2011


The Department of Anthropology at University of California, Berkeley was established in 1901. In the words of Frederick W. Putnam the department and the museum were "necessary" to properly organize several archaeological and ethnological expeditions maintained on behalf of the University by Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst*.
Phoebe Hearst didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about European prehistory although she had few objects - such as this scraper from Sweden - in her personal collection. As patron of the museum she financially supported Alfred Emerson in his collecting trips to Europe and around the Mediterranean. The turn of the last century witnessed a wealth of prehistoric research in the Old World but he largely focused on classical archaeology.
Between the world wars, a few single objects and small lithic assemblages from important paleolithic sites - mostly in France - were acquired. By the late 1960's these accessions had ceased and only few exchanges with other institutions took place. Old World archaeology at UC Berkeley was then mostly dedicated to Africa while European prehistory remained in the background. By the time professors Ruth Tringham and Meg Conkey came to the department in 1978 and 1987 respectively archaeology had greatly changed its modus operandi since the days of Putnam and Emerson. Large shipments of artifacts across the globe were no longer the norm as maintaining the relationship between objects and their original context was more highly valued and European governments began to restrict the trade in archaeological objects.
Laws on the export of cultural heritage are now very strict worldwide. Although, in the course of my own archaeological research, the Croatian government always granted me permission to borrow archaeological materials to study, traveling through customs was often challenging.

When compared to holdings from other geographic regions, today PAHMA curates a smaller collection of prehistoric artifacts of European provenience. It contains type tools of most cultures and traditions with the notable exception of the neolithic. Featured today is the biggest (and also one of the oldest) object in the European prehistoric collection. The chopper was collected in the Tagus Valley, in Portugal, by J. Desmond Clark; it measures 14 x 23.5 cm (5'5" x 9'2" in). Acheulean tools appeared in Europe around half million years ago.

Hearst Museum 7-5064
Early Acheulean cobble chopper
Europe, Portugal, Barreiras do Vale do Forno
Collected by J. Desmond Clark, September, 1964

*Dr. Ira Jacknis, the museum anthropologist, wrote a thorough history on the origins of the museum and the roles of its early constituents. For those who'd like to read it, please follow this link.

December 18, 2010


Frederick C. Gamst collected this small grinding stone from the surface of the site at Koken, Eritrea, in 1964. His research in the horn of Africa in the 1960's led him to argue that civilization and urban centers are not necessarily related or codependent and that in preliterate western Africa urbanism existed without civilization.
Gamst collection included two other objects from Koken; all them dated back to the Neolithic. The catalogue card includes a bibliographic reference for a 1954 paper written by A.J. Arkell, a British Army lieutenant stationed in Khartoum, Sudan.
I previously mentioned that a complete inventory of the African archaeological collections was one of the first projects I started in my tenure at the museum. The accession file didn't include a copy of the paper and to my disappointment it was not available in any of the University of California libraries or the United States.
A few internet searches later I was surprised to find out that my friend and colleague Cinzia Perlingieri was involved with the archaeological site of Koken - as ceramic expert - in the late 1990's. She provided a copy of the paper for the museum file, told me stories about the site and the people who worked there and what doing archaeological research in difficult places like the Horn of Africa entailed.
Arkell's paper is historically significant albeit a little too technical and dry. Cinzia and her colleagues wrote shorter summaries of their research at Koken.You can read them here and here.

Hearst Museum 5-4711
Africa, Eritrea, Agordat, Koken
Collected by Frederick C. Gamst, March 1965


While driving to work one morning I distractedly heard the voice on the radio saying: 
There's a tiny island called Yap out in the Pacific Ocean. Economists love it because it helps answer this really basic question: What is money?
It was the beginning of a story from NPR Morning Edition and as I kept driving I thought: I bet it involves some kind of shell.
Well, I was wrong and that story did not involve shells at all. In fact, historic Yapese people used imported limestone disks, some so big they can be hardly moved - the equivalent of a safe I guess - as their main form of currency for their trades and exchanges.

PAHMA curates a rather large archaeological collection from Oceania mostly due to the sizable assemblages that were excavated by Edward W. Gifford between 1947 and 1956. He was, at that time, director of the museum after he succeeded Alfred L. Kroeber in 1947.
These are large shell trumpets from Yap where Gifford and his wife had their last archaeological expedition in early 1956. During this project they found seven of these trumpets on the island, two were from archaeological context; the rest like those featured here, on the surface.

Shell disks and pendants were, however, also used as currency perhaps unsurprisingly as "small change". Somehow I knew that my stereotypical expectation couldn't be completely off target.

Hearst Museum # 11-36962 and 11-36964
Shell trumpets (Charonia tritonis)
Micronesia; Caroline Islands; Yap
Collected by Edward W. Gifford, March 1956

December 9, 2010


Whether or not a landowner has the right of possession of any archaeological resource that may exist on his land differs from country to country. Here in the United States the law favors the property rights of the landowner, in Italy - my native country - it does not.
Albert Viereck was born at his family farm at Neuhof-Kowas, not far from the city of Windhoek. A man with many interests, Viereck introduction to archaeology happened later in life after a visit to the painted shelters in the Brandberg mountains. Since South Africa then favored the rights of landowners (I don't know if the law had since changed) Viereck began collecting and recording artifacts and archaeological features on his farmland. He spent the following three decades researching and studying those artifacts and also ventured to investigate further away from his property; he recorded 129 archaeological sites, presented his results to international conferences and published papers and reports; all the while self-educating himself in the field. His largest collections were donated to the South West Africa Scientific Society a few years before his passing in 1982.

This quartzite point was presented to the museum by Viereck himself; I imagine through the auspices of prof. Clark who had  joined the faculty at UC Berkeley  in 1961 after his tenure at the National Museum of Zambia. The two men met in 1960 when Viereck participated to the Archaeological Winter School in Livingstone.
This type of tool is called a Stillbay point, after the prehistoric period during which it was made and used. It is the "type" point for the Stillbay period. The makers of similar points were hunter-gatherers of the Middle Stone Age who lived in southern Africa around and possibly before 65,000-70,000 years ago.
PAHMA has 17 Stillbay points and other tools, mostly from the Republic of South Africa and Kenya.

Hearst Museum #5-2467
Point; uniface; ovate
Namibia; Neuhof Kowas
Collected by Albert Viereck, 1962

October 1, 2010


With the obvious exception of the Egyptian Museum of Cairo, PAHMA curates the largest collections of the predynastic period (that began in the 4th millennium BC) in the world. 
Harvard graduate George A. Reisner received funding from Phoebe Hearst in 1898 for five years of research. By the end of 1901 he had excavated parts of two large pre-dynastic necropoli at Ballas and El Ahaiwah and the more recent cemetery at Naga ed-Der. In addition he excavated portions of the large town of Der el-Ballas with palaces and commoner houses that he dated to the middle and new kingdoms although new excavations in the 1980s revealed earlier levels.
This sickle blade found outside of a house at Der el-Ballas was used to harvest one of the many grain fields that likely surrounded the town. Grain stems contain silicates that transfer onto the blade's edge during reaping, leaving a glossy deposit along the border. The small notches are also the result of such activity. In predynastic, late neolithic times harvesting was accomplished by groups of men and women whose tools included sickles made by inserting a line of these flint blades in a wood or bone handle. One beautiful wooden handle is featured on the British Museum web site.

A thousand years after the appearance of domesticated species,  permanent villages were numerous along the Nile Valley and agricultural production had greatly increased in scale and variety of crops. Since earlier times barley was cultivated also for making beer, then a staple in Egyptian diet, the invention of which was attributed to Osiris. A few thousand years later Greek writers praised the quality of Egyptian beer. In the 1st century BC Diodorus Siculus wrote:
They make a drink of barley [...] for smell and sweetness of taste is not much inferior to wine.
Beer was also much appreciated by the Romans and by middle eastern populations.


Hearst Museum #6-9125
Flint knife, small
Egypt; Der-el-Ballas; hill south of House A-L
Collected by George A. Reisner, 1900-1901

August 17, 2010


A few days ago, the radio show This American Life recalled the story of the Georgia Rambler, a 1970s reporter who would travel to small towns across the state searching for regular folks with interesting stories to publish in the Atlanta Journal. A similar project was carried out in the mid 1940s by Lena Creswell, a retired physician from San Diego, California who traveled the United States as a freelance writer. In May 1945 the Desert Magazine (link; page 23) published her short article about a man who lived in a small house in a remote part of the Jacumba Valley in Imperial County, California. His name was Mr. Happy Sharp, an avid collector of Indian artifacts that he picked up on his property and in neighboring counties.
The PAHMA lists about 500 catalogue numbers of items that Mr. Sharp collected between 1930 and 1935, for the most part potsherds that document some of the variations in ceramic typology and decoration of southern California. Among other things he donated or sold to the museum, there are few of the oldest archaeological objects from southern California that are currently curated in this facility. This knife fragment is considered to be associated with early Holocene hunter-gatherers of the so-called San Dieguito culture whose early occurrence have been dated to about 10,200 years ago (BP). Typical tools of the San Dieguito people were domed scrapers - such as the one in the second picture - often in association with rather elaborate lithic flakes retouched into a crescent shape. These tool kits show that no matter their proximity to the Pacific coast these hunter-gatherers were still primarily thriving by hunting large and small mammals like their immediate predecessors.
Mortars, pestles and other grinding implements that broadly indicate the regular exploitation of other kinds of resources - such as seeds and grasses - will appear in the archaeological record of southern California few hundred years later with the people of the so-called La Jolla culture.

Hearst Museum 1-68609
Knife fragment, San Dieguito type
United States, California, Jacumba Valley
Collected by Happy Sharp, 1930-1947

Hearst Museum 1-86974
Small scraper plane
United States, California, CA-SDi-175
Collected by Adan E. Treganza, 1949

July 26, 2010

Fake boat

To complement the Egyptian collections acquired by George Reisner under the patronage of Phoebe Hearst, the museum accessioned a number of objects from other sources and donors throughout its history. Some of them later turned out to be modern or contemporary reproductions of archaeological pieces. In other words: fakes.
Fakes and forgeries are rather common in museum collections and PAHMA is no exception. It should be specified that in many cases fake objects were willingly accessioned despite or indeed because of their nature. Known forgeries curated in Berkeley include ancient Roman coins, Mexican figurines, Egyptian scarabs, Chinese pottery and even a shrunken "head" from Ecuador made with animal skin and hair.
In 1992, a selection of such objects was featured in a public exhibit entitled Too Good To Be True. The following text is what visitors could read almost twenty years ago on the exhibit label for today's object.

Egyptian funerary boats were traditionally used in the funerary voyages to and from the sanctuary of Osiris at Abydos. To be without a boat for this crossing meant that the spirit might be barred from immortality. This particular model was made in 1935 A.D. and purchased in Egypt by Mrs. Alma Spreckles while on a buying trip for the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. Model boats are now often crudely made from genuine pieces of ancient wood or, more commonly, "antiqued" by immersing the wood in camel urine, a process which greatly enhances the boat's aura and aroma.

According to the Smithsonian Institution in the last decade more than 60,000 fakes were sequestered by the Italian police before they could enter the market. Can anyone calculate how much urine would be needed?
The featured boat is ca. 62 cm long while the figures are ca. 12-15 cm tall.

Hearst Museum # 5-14112
Funerary boat model (detail)
Egypt; unspecified (purchased in Egypt)
Collected by Alma Spreckles, 1935

July 9, 2010


A brief diversion from the prehistoric collections and objects that are from a remote time. Few weeks ago, during a facility tour for our volunteers, I noticed this boat model from Polynesia and it made me think about places that are remote in space.
Tongareva (Penrhyn) is the most remote atoll of the Cook Islands archipelago and since I am originally from Europe, it is as remote as it gets. This model of a Polynesian outrigger was made by local school children as a learning project and sold as souvenir to the collector. Sorry for the lack of a scale: the main hull is about 40 cm long.

Hearst Museum # 11-45017a,b
Boat model
Polynesia, Cook Islands, Tongareva
Collected by R. Evansizer (1952-1963)

June 25, 2010


These quartzite tools (a core, a truncation and a geometric) were collected between 1964 and 1965 at Dindori 3, a site along the banks of the Narmada River, India. The tools are included in a sizable collection of paleolithic implements from about 30 discrete localities in the Narmada Valley in India. The archaeological expedition was organized by Theodore D. McCown and one of his students, George V. Shkurkin. Sadly it would be McCown's last field season as he passed away in 1969 after more than 30 years at UC Berkeley, first as a student and later as faculty and museum curator. The collections were then accessioned to the PAHMA and used by prof. J. Desmond Clark (and others) for teaching and research. Professor Clark went himself on archaeological expeditions in India in the 1980's.
Another prominent UC Berkeley anthropologist, Sherwood Washburn, recalled how McCown was convinced that the testing ground to understand human evolution laid to the east. The land between Palestine, where his father worked as biblical archaeologist, and India was where he thought Dryopithecines had space and time to develop the variations that eventually led to modern apes and humans.
Below is what McCown wrote to campus administrators prior to his leave of absence from the university: 
The purpose of my sabbatic leave is to spend from October 1964 to May 1965 in India, investigating and excavating Pleistocene localities containing assemblages of paleolithic tools and/or fossil fauna materials. The principal localities to be tested lie in the central and eastern parts of the state of Madhya Pradesh between the town of Hosangabad and Jubbulpore. The area is one I visited and surveyed during five weeks in the spring and summer of 1958 on sabbatic leave from the University. A number of promising localities were visited, but it became obvious that the main stream of the Narmada River poses problems whose solutions will have to be sought along the tributary systems running it from Vindhya mountains to the north and the Satpuras to the south. No systematic investigation has been made of the remnants of the terrace system, especially where they have been dissected by the Narmada's tributaries.

Hearst Museum #9-10093; 9-10074; 9-10072
India; Madhya Pradesh; Narmada valley; Dindori 3
Collected by Theodore D. McCown and George V. Shkurkin, 1964-1965

June 24, 2010


These clay figurines are from Karkarinchinkat Nord, a neolithic site in the Tilemsi Valley, Republic of Mali. They were excavated in 1972 by Dr. Andrew Smith as part of his doctoral dissertation. A radiocarbon date of the stratigraphic horizon indicated that they were buried between 2000 and 1360 B.C.
Simple, small figurines similar to these are commonly found among the remains of early agro-pastoral villages in Africa, Europe and the Near East. I excavated two myself (here's an example) while working at the neolithic tell of Çatalhöyük, Turkey, a few years back. Together with the simplicity of their human shape, a common feature is the large, flat bottom, which likely served the purpose of having them sitting on small chairs or stools. Elaborate, finely crafted sets of figurines were found in Neolithic villages in Southeastern Europe (e.g., from Cucuteni, Romania) and their significance and use within a particular household or the entire community have been variously interpreted. The figurines from Karkarinchinkat, even accounting for their considerable age, seem to have been fashioned in a rather expedient way without a great attention to details. Not far from where the figurines were excavated laid the burial of a young child. Although the two archaeological features were not considered associated, it is still possible to imagine that these figurines could be child toys.

The numerous toys and game pieces that are housed at the PAHMA, both archaeological and ethnographic, were made using various materials; stone, grasses, ivory, bones and wood. Below the figurines are two objects from the African collection, all of them made with clay.

Hearst Museum # 5-11898
Mali; Tilemsi Valley; Karkarinchinkat Nord
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

Hearst Museum # 5-13623
Clay figurine, hump-backed (Zebu) cow; modern ethnographic; child’s toy.
Africa; Malawi
Collected and donated by J. Desmond Clark, 1965


Hearst Museum # 5-10656
Fired clay cylinders; roulette decoration on surface (gaming pieces?)
Africa; Mali; Tin Aberz
Collected by J. Desmond Clark, 1972

June 2, 2010


One of the largest accession of Old World archaeology at the PAHMA includes the assemblages collected during the University of California African Expeditions in 1947 and 1948. The availability of these collections for teaching and scholarly research raised an interest that, within few years, contributed to turn the Berkeley campus as one of the world's most active center for African prehistory.

As customary for museum collections devoted to teaching, assemblages were sometimes broken down in smaller sets that represent specific periods or technological phases. Over the years, students and researchers left notes and comments - most often than not on scrap pieces of paper - about the items they were studying. One note was found at the bottom of a small box containing these three objects from a locality near the Taungs Limeworks, Republic of South Africa. The author signed the comment though the signature is unfortunately hard to read making it impossible to date it with certainty. In my personal opinion it could be from the early 1950's. Here is the note's transcription:

The larger specimen (brown) is an excellent evolved Middle Stone Age point with reduction of the bulb of percussion on the cleavage face. Such points occur in developed phases of the M.S.A. but are never common. The dark chert point is also evolved M.S.A. The curvature is probably merely fortuitous. The white quartz specimen is not significant.

Hearst Museum 5-8902
Middle Stone Age Points
Republic of South Africa; Cape Province; Taungs Limeworks
Collected by Charles L. Camp and Frank E. Peabody, 1947-1949

Hearst Museum 5-8901
Quartz crystal
Republic of South Africa; Cape Province; Taungs Limeworks
Collected by Charles L. Camp and Frank E. Peabody, 1947-1949

May 1, 2010

Blade core

This obsidian core was collected by Robert F. Heizer during one of his archaeological expeditions in Guatemala. Unlike jade, which was circulating primarily among the upper classes of central American societies, obsidian was readily available to most households. Cores and blades were produced and traded in large numbers to be used, with appropriate modifications, in hunting, farming, woodworking, weaponry and  ritual. In a 1971 volume, Heizer and colleagues published an account of blade production among the Atzecs as told by the Spanish missionary Motolinia, soon after the Spanish conquest.

Robert F. Heizer came to UC Berkeley in the 1930s as an undergraduate transfer from Sacramento Junior College, then an active center for archaeological research in northern California. He received his BA (1936) and PHD (1941) working closely with Alfred Kroeber and, soon after World War II, he was appointed Assistant Professor (1946) in the Anthropology Department. He was Curator of North America Archaeology at the PAHMA from 1956 until his death in 1979.

One of the first to realize that archaeological research in pre-war California was rather crude in its field methods and general modus operandi, Heizer was always a strenuous proponent of rigorous methodology and a pioneer of scientific applications. It is thus perhaps surprising that early in his career his attention to detail was apparently a matter of concern, as expressed in this hand-written note archived at the museum. The author of the note, though without absolute certainty, was likely Llewellyn Lemont Loud who had worked for the museum since 1911 and spent years excavating and recording archaeological sites in California and Nevada.

More than 60 years later, the remarks feel more like rivalry between different institutions than personal grudge or criticism. Loud himself was a cause for frustration for Alfred Kroeber who, at times, questioned Loud's commitment to wrapping up his archaeological reports in a timely manner. It took Loud 17 years to complete the publication of his excavation at Lovelock cave, Nevada (1912-1929).

Hearst Museum 3-22955
Obsidian prismatic blade core
Guatemala, Papalhuapa, "Templo de Montezuma"
Collected by Robert F. Heizer, John Graham and H. Williams, 1965