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January 05, 2000

ALONG THE WAY: Yucca Mountain Archaeology


Some of the fondest memories from my childhood are of field trips. I LOVED field trips. Not just because we got out of school, but because of the sense of adventure. It was such a fun way to learn new things. Well, guess what? You can still go on field trips. They. re organized by the continuing education department at UNLV. Recently I got to go on one. And like all the field trips from my youth it started with a bus ride.

Ted Hartwell... Good Morning, I'd like to welcome you to the yucca mountain archaeology tour supported by the continuing education at U.N.L.V.

Yes, he said Yucca Mountain. But this isn't a tour of the repository facility. This tour is of the archeological sites surveyed over the past few years. The tour's scheduled guides are Ted Hartwell, and Dave Valentine. Archeologists from the Desert Research Institute. But today Richard Arnold from the Las Vegas Indian Center has also joined the tour. This is going to be fun. We're going to get the opportunity to approach the sites from two often-different viewpoints.

Once we're beyond the gate the bus pulls into the parking lot of the Yucca Mountain field office and waits while Dave Valentine hammers away at a large piece of obsidian demonstrating the ancient art of flint napping.

David Valentine ... if you get tired of hard hammer there's always soft hammer percussion. And a lot of times this is just a deer antler but you can see that the end here is kind of rounded off and polished and stuff. This is used a billet for striking ...

Dave got into quite a bit of detail about making stone tools, and even attempted to make an arrowhead for us. As we watched it was obvious to all that Dave had done quite a bit of research on this subject, and knew what he was talking about. But as I saw Richard Arnold wandering around just outside the group I couldn't help but wonder if the local Native Americans would be offended by a white man doing this kind of demonstration.

David Bert ... does it have a certain value in helping educate the public? Richard Arnold ... absolutely. That's what the whole purpose of this trip, I think that's the purpose of any kind of interaction where you can share and impart knowledge on to other people and maybe try to open their eyes and give them a little different perspective on something it's very beneficial

Armed with information that would enable us to spot Native American artifacts we loaded into the vans and headed out across the desert. Our first destination was 40-mile wash. As we moved out onto the terrace we started to break off into smaller groups around the two archeologists. This is the best part of being on the field trip. Having your own personal expert to answer questions, and point out things that your untrained eye might miss. Like a collection of rocks that we could see were obviously significant only AFTER Ted pointed them out to us

Ted Hartwell... well, the alignment contains seven, I guess, small boulder sized stones that have been displaced from wherever they occurred originally and set up in a straight line. Each rock is 9 m 30 cm from the next one, or approximately 30 ft. It was obviously very carefully paced off for measured off somehow. We don't know exactly how to interpret it which is often the case with alignments such as this ...

It was a mystery. But it was just one of many mysteries out here. Now we weren't educated enough to be able to solve the mysteries, but the archeologists had enabled us with enough information to at least find some of the clues. And that was all we needed to don our houndstooth caps and start looking. For the rest of the day, no matter where we went, we looked like a bunch of people with our necks broken. Constantly looking at the ground for more physical evidence left behind by those who had passed before us. After lunch we gathered at the ridge on top of Yucca Mountain. The wind was strong here, but the view was breathtaking. The Calico hills to the East were magnificent with cloud shadows playing across their surface. To the South you can see Mount Charleston the place of creation for the Southern Paiute Indians. Everywhere we looked the vast expanse of Nevada stretched out before us. This is my kind of field trip.

For more information on Yucca Mountain fieldtrips, contact UNLV Continuing Education.

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