Wednesday, July 27, 2011

White Mountain Archaeology

The Sierra Nevada & Owens River Valley from the
White Mountains
      During the last 30 years or so, archaeologists throughout the western US recorded a series of surprising prehistoric villages above 10, 000 feet. As we (Team Sheepeater) have found what seem to be the oldest of these villages in Wyoming, we decided to hold a conference to sort out how these spectacular sights might be related. Thus, last summer we formed the first High Altitude Archaeological Summit in the Wind River Range with Robert Bettinger of UC-Davis, David Hurst Thomas of the AMNH & Robert Kelly of UWYO. This summer, Dr. Bettinger hosted the second conference in the White Mountains of southern California. Road trip!
Salt harvesting in Utah!
     This road trip was going to be a big one. 16 hours to Bishop across what is considered the 'Loneliest Road in America', two days hiking above 12,000 feet, then 16 hours back across central Nevada. Our first stop on the trip was the great salt flats just outside of Wendover. This is where the land speed record is tested, and where a seemingly infinite supply of wonderful table salt is waiting to be harvested!
    The rest of the drive was uneventful. In fact, it was one of the most desolate places I have ever been. Never did I expect that a two lane stretch of highway could make the middle of nowhere Wyoming seem overpopulated. After hundreds of miles of perfectly straight desert driving, we stumbled into Bishop and beelined to the nearest Mexican restaurant.
Team Sheepeater getting lectured by Dr. Bettinger

     Whereas the Winds have much vegetation up to and above treeline, the Whites are pretty darn sparse once you get above the Pinon and Bristlecones. The Bristlecone pine forests in these mountains are considered the oldest living organisms on the planet. The don't grow to be incredibly large, but the most ancient recorded has been watching over the hills for over 4,000 years! 

How to properly display an artifact
     Whereas the terrain of the Whites is a little different than in Wyoming, the archaeology was nearly identical. So similar it seems that the same people could have lived in both mountain ranges 900 miles apart. The problem is, the Wyoming sites are around 3000 years old while the Whites are 700 years old. So the question remains, how exactly did this technology travel across the Great Basin? In what capacity? And, in what direction?

Lodge Structure surrounded by large stones

A pine nut milling stone similar to some
we have found in the Winds. 
    The trip was incredibly valuable and really put a lot of things in perspective. We certainly have much work to do in our own mountain range, but we now have an even more daunting task in the effort to link 900 miles of prehistoric mountain cultures. Guess that's why they invented grad school!

No comments:

Post a Comment