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.