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TOPIC: Mendocino Forest PIT project lets volunteers dig into archaeology

Mendocino Forest PIT project lets volunteers dig into archaeology 7 years 10 months ago #3728

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Mendocino Forest PIT project lets volunteers dig into archaeology
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Written by Lake County News reports

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST, Calif. – For a week, 32 volunteers, 11 archaeologists and two tribal representatives from Round Valley lived on the Mendocino National Forest to work on a Passport in Time (PIT) archaeology project.

The work took place in the forest from Aug. 22 to Aug. 26.

The project participants were working on sample excavations across a site believed to be a prehistoric hunting base camp.

Findings included stone flakes from making and maintaining projectile points, partial and nearly whole projectile points, as well as other stone tools.

Projectile points are mostly large specimens used on spears, rather than associated with bow and arrow, a technology that came later in time.

“It’s kind of unusual at this elevation to find a lot of ground stone – we’re at 6,200 plus feet,” said Forest Archaeologist Mike Dugas. “There are quite a few pieces including a small pestle, an anvil stone and various milling stone fragments typically used for processing plant foods. These implements suggest families were at the site, as plant processing was typically done by women.”

Most projectile points found at the site appear to be 3,000 to 5,000 years old, according to the archaeologists.

“The early component is most likely representative of the Yuki tribal territory,” Dugas said. “The presence of artifacts which appear to be made from northeast obsidian sources suggest the Nomlaki were here at some point also. Obsidian analysis will tell us more about who and when the site was occupied. The bulk of tools we’re finding here are from the early period.”

PIT participants started 15 excavation units to sample across the site. Working in teams of three, they excavated square holes, digging across each layer a centimeter at a time and collecting the dirt in 5 gallon buckets which were poured through screens to filter out cultural artifacts. Each layer was carefully documented, including what items were found.

The unit concludes when sterile soil is reached, with no cultural evidence. On average, this was approximately 16 inches deep.

“I’ve gotten to do every job,” said PIT Volunteer Desiree Scott, who came to the project from San Rafael. “I can screen, I can dig, I can help out with paperwork.”

This is Scott’s second PIT project. Her first was a survey done on the Pike National Forest in Colorado, which was different from the hands-on experience she has had working on an excavation project.

Among her favorite experiences with this PIT project was learning new skills, as well as the diverse group of people working on the project and camping out all week.

“At night we talk about what everybody found,” Scott added.

Each morning, the group goes over safety and the plan for the day before travelling from the Masterson Group Campground to the project site, which Scott said was helpful.

Christa Westphal, an archaeologist from the Plumas National Forest Feather River Ranger District and Chico State University student, said her favorite part was “learning more about prehistoric archaeology.”

Wesley Thomas of Paradise came to the Mendocino National Forest for his first PIT project. He joined his son Lowell Thomas, an archaeologist from the Mendocino National Forest Grindstone Ranger District.

“I love it. It’s wonderful to be around all these intelligent, nice people who love what they’re doing with a lot of patience and a lot of knowledge that they share,” Wesley Thomas said. “If they had these going on for a month at a time I would do them all summer.”

This is Lowell Thomas’ third PIT Project working as an employee. He said his favorite part of the experience is, “seeing how much the volunteers enjoy the experience for the first time and seeing the cultural material that they didn’t know was on the Forest.”

The PIT project on the Mendocino National Forest was the fourth this season for Jim Blaes from Atascadero. He is scheduled to participate in another project next month in Markleeville, south of Lake Tahoe.

“I’ve enjoyed all of it … all I’ve been privileged to do,” Blaes said.

“I like working with these two guys, too,” Blaes laughed, nodding to Wesley and Lowell Thomas, who were working in the same unit.

The PIT Project site this year was first identified during the Keeran Timber Sale in 1976. Artifacts have been found at the site for decades and the site is in an area where there is a lot of disturbance that has brought items to the surface.

“We look around more (here) and find more and more each time,” Dugas said.

At the conclusion of the project, the units were filled in and forest archaeologists will process the information gathered.

The units loop down towards a watering hole, which Dugas speculated was the draw to the site as a base camp.

The diverse group of PIT volunteers included students, professors, retirees, and working professionals who wanted to learn more about archaeology and prehistoric cultures.

“We appreciate all the help from the PIT volunteers,” Dugas added. “It’s been a great week and we are glad we were able to share the experience and have a safe and successful project.”

PIT is a volunteer program with the Forest Service that provides an opportunity for the public to learn more about archaeology and historic preservation working side-by-side with Forest Service archaeologists and historians at sites across the United States.

For more information on the PIT program, or to apply to participate on a PIT project, please visit www.passportintime.com.

Courtesy Mendocino National Forest's staff
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