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