The Archeology of Joshua Tree National Park

Instructors: Dr. Claude N. Warren and Dr. Joan S. Schneider

Class Notes of 5-6 November 2005 by Dr. John V. Richardson Jr.


Figure 1, Copyright by John Richardson



I.       Definition of Archeology and Other Terms

a.                  The scientific study of the material culture of past civilizations

b.                  Pre-history/history demarcation depends on location

                                                              i.      For California desert, it could be 1776 (Fr. Serra journal)

c.                   Permanent sites means repeated use

d.                 Artifact is 50 years or older; more recent, trash

e.                  BPE=before present era; i.e., 1950 A.D.

f.                    Temper is coarse to fine sand (or quartz) added to pottery

g.                  Bundles are sacred objects, part of ceremonies; spiritual power

h.                  Points (platform, top of flake; bulb, takes the blunt force; and core, the source of the material)

i.                    Pictographs are surface painted; petroglyphs are cut into stone

j.                    One sigma; one standard deviation is 67% around mean date

II.     The Environment

a.                  High Desert (Mojave)

b.                  Low Desert (Colorado)

                                                              i.      Dividing line, elevation at about 2500 feet

c.                   Transition zone (ocotillo is present)

d.                 Joshua Tree is in both the high and low desert

                                                              i.      Correlation of vegetation zones with permanent sites

1.      Oak Pine woodland

2.      Granitic outcrop and Southern Bench

3.      See handout “Locations of random sample transects”

e.                  Importance of Water (see Keys Ranch site for example)

                                                              i.      Other catchments

                                                           ii.      Springs

                                                         iii.      Lake Cahuilla or Lake LeConte

1.      Filled maybe 8 times; most recently 500 years BPE

f.          Food

                                                              i.      Plants and shrubs

                                                           ii.      Animals (e.g., big horn sheep, birds, lizards, rabbits, tortoise; coyote may be God’s dog)

1.      Hunting blinds

                                                         iii.      Fresh water fish from Lake Cahuilla

1.      Stone fish traps

g.      Trade Patterns

                                                              i.      Beads

1.      Pacific Ocean

2.      Gulf of California

                                                           ii.      Obsidian

1.      Salton Sea (Obsidian Butte)

2.      Sharper than surgical steel (can be cut down to one molecule)

3.      Dr. Bruce Bradley, flint knapping

                                                         iii.      Wonderstone

1.      Rainbow Rock Quarry

                                                         iv.      Pottery (ollas, Spanish word)

1.      Coiled construction

2.      Storage jars with resin plugs

3.      Contents: honey mesquite beans, what else?

4.      Value of sooted shards for AMS radiocarbon dating

                                                            v.      Cotton

1.      Arizona

                                                         vi.      Salt

1.      Nevada

                                                       vii.      Food

1.      Acorns

2.      Agaves

                                                    viii.      Soapstone

1.      Catalina

III.             The People

a.      Three groups related linguistically

                                                              i.      Cahuilla (see L.J. Bean article and website at

                                                           ii.      Serrano (see Schneider and Everson article, 2003)

                                                         iii.      Chemehuevi

b.      Pottery analysis

                                                              i.      See handout on “Distribution of Types of Ceramic Wares”

1.      Tizon (brown ware)

2.      Northern  

3.      Southern

c.       Political (tribal units)

IV.             History of Archeology in Joshua Tree

a.      Elizabeth W. Crozier Campbell

                                                              i.      From PA; Winter 1924/25 at 29 Palms

                                                           ii.      Interested in Pleistocene Lake Mojave (10000 BPE)

                                                         iii.      Identified settlements at water’s edge

b.      Malcolm J. Rogers (1936)

                                                              i.      Silver Lake Playa

c.       University of Utah

                                                              i.      Rather switch than fight (adaptation theory)

                                                           ii.      Looks at pinto points differently

V.                Ethics, Law, and Stewardship (see handout)

a.      Federal Laws

                                                              i.      Antiquities Act (1906)

1.      Permits needed on federal lands or use of fed. funds

                                                           ii.      National Historical Preservation Act (1966)

1.      Created Register; section 106, requires consultation with Native Americans (NA)

                                                         iii.      National Environmental Policy Act (1969)

1.      Requires archeologist as part of EIR process

                                                         iv.      Archeological Resources Protection Act (1971)

1.      Permits on NA lands; criminal fines and penalties

                                                            v.      Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (1990; 1995 amendments)

1.      Burial and “bundles” protections; consultation

b.      State Laws

                                                              i.      See handout re state owned or managed land

VI.             Carbon 14 dating

a.      Half life of 5700 years; decays to zero at 50000 BPE

b.      Can be used on bones, charcoal, people, plants, seeds

c.       One-sigma (SD) variance depends on reservoir, size of sample, length of time counting

d.     Confounded by industrial revolution and nuclear era


VII.          Field Sites:

a.      Key Overview at 33° 55.656N, 116°10.907 W at 5175 feet

                                                              i.      Good view of high and low desert

                                                           ii.      Lake Cahuilla (now Salton Sea)

                                                         iii.      Banning Pass (the Pass used by Native Americans)

b.      Squaw Tank Dam Rock Shelter at 33°55.846, 116°04.592 at 3610 feet

                                                              i.      Late period

1.      desert side notch points

2.      triangular points

                                                           ii.      Note orientation, facing S-SE (most common for shelters)

                                                         iii.      Note mortar for grinding seeds in rock floor

1.      Corn/maize has its origins 5-6K years ago in

2.      Teosinte, a wild grass from the western Sierra Madre range (Mexico)

                                                         iv.      Smoke blackened in top of shelter

                                                            v.      Tortoise shell and pottery shard

c.       Keys Ranch at 34° 02.643N, 116° 10.052W at 4117 feet

                                                              i.      See “Keys Ranch Excavations” handout

                                                           ii.      Rock Shelter 1, Lake prehistoric era based on pottery and projectile points (Cottonwood triangular)

                                                         iii.      Rock Shelter 2, nothing in terms of cultural materials

                                                         iv.      See handout re profile along road cut

d.     Barker Dam at 34° 01.606N, 116° 08.743N at **** feet    

                                                              i.      Pseudo-pictographs

1.      Shapes are suspicious

2.      Colors are too bold (not subtle)

3.      Female (triangular) figures

                                                           ii.      Possible petroglyphs under pictographs

VIII.       For the Future

a.      Learn more about ethno-botanist David P. Barrow (Chicago PhD, 1897) who worked in the desert during 1892, saying the place was “forbidding, arid, and unfruitful”

b.      Visit the Malki Museum and Press in Banning, CA

c.       Take classes at Desert Study Center, Soda Springs (CSU)

d.     Read Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay

e.      Submit article on “Long Distance Travelers: Late Minoan IIIA Influences on Late Prehistoric Petroglyphs of Joshua Tree” for Journal of Irreproducible  Results

f.        Complete certificate in desert ecology, UCR