Rancho La Brea Photo Album

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Wandering scholars discover the Page Museum at La Brea Tar Pits.

Recent travels allowed for a quick visit to the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.  Now in their one hundredth year of excavation, the site has yielded over 600 species to date with a NISP of over 3.5 million (not counting over 200 bacteria).  It’s a remarkable place and I feel privileged to to have been given an excellent tour by Dr John Harris and Curator Gary Takeuchi.  Tar still bubbles and oozes and excavations continue, thanks in part to continuing growth of this highly urbanized area.

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Chuck and George with Dr John Harris and Gary Takeuchi

Although most of the tar seeps are closed off for safety, a couple can be accessed with a guide.  The surface is just as deceptive as it is described and is often covered with leaves and dirt.  The tar can also be deceptively solid feeling until the incredible stickiness locks your feet to the tar.  Dr Harris provided a great example by having us poke the tar with a wooden lath.  Even though it is solid enough to resist the lath for more than a top inch or two, it is extremely difficult to pull it back out again and it’s easy to imagine a hooved animal becoming mired almost instantly to await it’s demise by large cat or wolf or even thirst.

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You just gotta poke it with a stick…

For reasons that aren’t completely clear, there are an extremely high number of predators and scavengers in the mix, implying that many carnivores may be tempted by a struggling animal but the more cautious grazers were likely scared away by their thrashing comrades.  The upshot of this is an enormous number of coyotes, wolves, saber-toothed cats, short-faced bears, and American lions as well as the full gamut of vulture-like birds filling these pits and seeps.  Below I am holding the humerus of a Smilodon fatalis, a prevalent creature at the Tar Pits.

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Examining a freshly excavated smilodon humerus (upper arm of saber-toothed cat).

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Examining the mounted saber-toothed cats.

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And of course, a mammoth.

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A couple of mastodon.

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Just a glimpse of the over 3.5 million specimens housed at the Page.

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We had a wonderful tour of the “fish-bowl” lab by Shelly Cox.  Here we examine the newly cleaned mammoth tusk.

Tusks grow like tree-rings and tell scientists a lot about the environment the creature lived in by proxy.  A section of this particular specimen has been removed for analysis already.

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Cranium of a very familiar looking mammoth. Although not found inundated in tar, there is still enough in the sediment that it is oozing from the cleaned skull.

For anyone interested in Ice Age fauna, the Page Museum is a definite “must see” stop on the journey through life.

Pagemammoth

Click the mammoth to see more from the Page Museum at http://www.tarpits.org.

Heading to England?

If you plan to be in England this summer…

EVENING WALK AMONGST THE STONES AT STONEHENGE – 23 August 7:30 pm, Thursday, 23 August, 2012

Click the image for more info.

An opportunity to get close to the stones and learn more about the monument and the surrounding landscape.

The visits will be led by David Dawson, Director of the Society, who will point out the main features of the circle and its surrounding landscape and explain the cycle of its construction and rebuilding during the Bronze Age.
This is an opportunity to inspect and photograph (for non-commercial purposes only) the stones closely, and see the inscriptions, including the famous ‘daggers’ believed to date from prehistoric times, Wander at will inside the circle, indeed do whatever you wish other than touch, climb on the stones, picnic or play music, none of which is allowed!
There are two evening visits to Stonehenge in 2012 – 31 May from 7.45pm to 8.45pm), and 23 August (from 7.30pm to 8.30pm).
Meet at Stonehenge car park 10 minutes before booked time. Tour lasts no more than one hour.

Upcoming Exhibit

Projectile Points from Blackwater Draw will be on display at an upcoming exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico from May 11, 2012 - January 2014.  The exhibit is titled “It’s About Time: 14,000 Years of Art in New Mexico“, and will include a chronological display of New Mexico art beginning with the Clovis culture and continuing to the present.

New Mexico Museum of Art

This will certainly be an outstanding exhibit, and one that all of us here at Blackwater are very excited about.  So, if you live in New Mexico or if your future travel plans include a visit to our great state, then definitely consider adding a visit to Santa Fe and the New Mexico Museum of Art to your itinerary.

For more information about the museum and the exhibit just click on the above image.

Recent Activity at the Clovis Site

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Photo courtesy of Tandy Bozeman.

Lots of activity at the site.  Preparing to open for the season, giving guided tours to visitors, working on the analysis and re-writing our story.  We also had some professional photography done recently and will add those images in the following days.

Bronze Age Technology

The recovered portion of the Dover Boat on display.

Robin Wood is a remarkable traditional craftsman from Britain.  He has recently been involved with replicating the Dover Boat, a Bronze Age ship discovered in 1992 (see the news article here).  The find is about 3500 years old, placing it right at the cusp of early metal-working technology.

The Oetzi axe

The reconstruction is half-scale but staying true to the technology, they are attempting to use replicated tools for much of the construction.  Pallstaves were cast from an original and hafted both like an adze and like an axe.  This isn’t speculative as there are quite a number of preserved Bronze Age examples from wet contexts in Europe.

“Pallstave” replicas.

As with other ships and boats from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, ingenious methods were used to connect the planks and stiffen the hull.  Technologically, these fall somewhere between composite dugouts and true framed ships.  There are many factors in holding together a boat including lots of movement from all angles, swelling/shrinking of the planks, and the need for light weight.  The solution on the Dover Boat was to stitch the entire thing together with yew “withes” and stiffen the body with heavy lathes driven through carved mortices.

It seems that a better candidate could not have been chosen to work on this project and I’m very glad to see that he is documenting it on his blog for all to see.

Adzing a plank by eye, leaving the mortices standing to accept the lathes. (Click the photo or link below to go to Robin’s website).

“Experiential Archaeology” in action.

From the log of the Starship Enterprise

In January of 1967, an episode of Star Trek entitled “The Galileo Seven” aired, and caught the attention of Dr. George Agogino, a past Director of the Paleo-Indian Institute at Eastern New Mexico University. In the episode, Spock and his crew crash-land on a hostile planet with “caveman” like creatures lurking around, and throwing spears at the crew. Dr. Agogino saw a morphological resemblance between the spear points used in the episode and Folsom points, so he decided to send a letter and request that the spears that were used in the television show be donated to the Blackwater Draw Museum. A few months later Robert Justman, the associate Producer of Star Trek received Agogino’s request, and was enthused to answer it.

Justman noted that the spears were based on the Folsom points that had originally been found in New Mexico in the late 1920s, but he made sure to address the “dramatic license” that was practiced by enlarging the spears to 15 feet in length. Nonetheless, Agogino was still thrilled at the possibility of having Folsom themed Star Trek memorabilia on display.

Below is a scene out of the episode featuring the spears:

Many letters went back and forth between Agogino, Justman, and NBC, mainly addressing shipping and logistics of mailing 15 foot spears, but eventually the spears made their way to Portales, New Mexico, and then to the Blackwater Draw Museum where they are still proudly on display.

Star Trek prop spears on display in the Blackwater Draw Museum.

Where Does the Time Go?

Too much data, not enough time.  The story of archaeological research.

I began a mapping project of the bonebed excavations in our Interpretive Center about two-and-a-half years ago.  It has been on hold more than it has been an active project.  Because it is protected from the weather, it is relatively safe from the elements.  However, bad things can happen to fragile deposits including attacks from insects, rodents, temperature swings, and vandals.  After some relatively minor animal damage and one case of vandalism, finishing the photo-documentation and illustrated maps became a priority for me.  Fortunately, we had virtually all the information necessary to repair the work that was so quickly undone during those incidents but I am still hoping for more.  We have illustrations of every bone exposed in the excavation and have begun the photo-mosaic preliminary to making the information available electronically.

A processing area of heads and scapulae on the west edge of the paleo-arroyo.

It is only a few thousand bones exposed so far but even that much data can become unmanageable in a hurry.  As these bonebeds are kept relatively in situ for display, much of the analysis will proceed from the imaging, not the actual bones.  Counts, such as NISP, and MNI have been made in the past but more elements are uncovered with every cleaning of the deposit.  Also, these studies need to move forward to publication to add the available data of bison kills.

Bison bones, while intact and in situ, have undergone serious post depositional damage from burrowing rodents, most likely prairie dogs.

I don’t want to overlook or downplay the importance of excavation but often that part of archaeology is just the beginning.  Archaeological sites are not just a collection of individual artifacts to be shaken out of the sediment, then housed in a museum or collection.  They are complex conglomerations of clues about human behavior that need to be teased out of the ground like a long-forgotten crime scene.

A portion of the lower South Bank bonebed. Unlike the later, Archaic deposits, this bonebed indicates some post depositional movement of the deposits by water passing down the outflow channel.

This work takes time and money.  Without these resources data will be lost just as it has been and always will be.  In the current political and economic climate we can only trudge along and do what we can while trying to avoid the inevitable distractions of politics, unethical behavior, and lack of public support.  Despite not having the resources to keep the Clovis site open daily throughout the year, we have almost daily visitors hoping to have a look at this mecca of American Prehistory and the site that tracks the history of American Archaeology.

Mammoth Sculpture

A new work by Jud Turner caught my attention as I really want a mammoth representation for the Clovis site.  Much of his work is from found or salvaged objects but have a distinctly biological “feel”.

I know it doesn’t really aide the viewer in any scientific way but I think the sense of scale is transmitted by life-size representations, whether three-dimensional, flat, or even abstract.  The construction photos on his site are fairly impressive due to the scale of the project.