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