Progress Notes

Forbidden Archeology: Early Man in the Western Hemisphere

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111 degrees. Summer arrived in the Mojave Desert yesterday before noon. I was happy in the heat, hearing the crunch of the Goodrich All Terrains in the sand and gravel of the trail as we crested the rise and rolled into the Calico Early Man Archeological Site. The Site Manager came out the door of the shed that used to be the Administration Building and walked quickly across to us as I was rolling down the window of the Jeep. "Hi! We used to dig here!" I said by way of greeting.

"What!?" he asked.

"We used to volunteer here in the early 90s. We dug in the pits."

He looked at me skeptically.

I mentioned a few names and events from back then: Frank the Team Leader from Nevada, the guy who worked with Jane Goodall who spoke at the Saturday Night Dinner, the woman who got sick before Frank took over. He knew I was real then and he smiled. "Well, park over there and I will get you up to date." A lot had changed there physically. The buildings looked newer but the parking area was still vaguely defined--just an open area by a fence. We climbed down out of the Tomb Raider and I noticed that the hatband in my cap was already soaking. It was just past noon, the temperature display in my rear view mirror read 109 degrees and we were two hours away from the heat of the afternoon.

We walked to the visitor center and the site Manager already had the door open and was waiting inside, sitting in his chair at the end of the room where I assumed he started the tour for visitors. I was right. He told us he was getting ready for a group students coming from the University of California at Riverside next week and then he went right into his memorized presentation. I would have bet a hundred dollars he was going to do that and if you knew archeology people, you would have bet right along with me. Archeologists are meticulous and compulsive. They have to be.

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I was grateful for the refresher course because many of the details I knew had gone fuzzy in twenty years since we last did more than drive past the Calico Early Man Archeology Site sign on our way out to the mineral collecting fields in the surrounding hills. When facts and fiction are forged by the heat of controversy, then they get mixed up in memory, what is left is legend. I'm going to tell you the legend. You can find the official story by a quick search. You can find all of the debunkery the same way. The legend, the oral history as told to me and Miss August twenty years ago, you will find here.

In the 1940s a surveyor for the interstate highway stopped to have his lunch and found what looked like might be stone tools lying among the other rocks scattered around. He talked about what he found and reported his possible discovery to the right people and the information came to the attention of the Southwest Museum. Nothing much happened for ten years until the find came to the attention of a young woman, Ruth De Ette Simpson, an archeologist at the museum.

I only knew Dee Simpson in her later years and she was a formidable person even then. She was slight and quiet, always seeming to be in the background. Most people talked about her in awe, as a force of nature, a person who made things happen and who, if you got to know her, would talk you into working for the Calico Site until she wore you out. She reminded me of the kind of woman that they would call a cowgirl in Arizona but most people elsewhere would call a tomboy. A cowgirl knew her way around a horse, a pickup truck and a gun and wouldn't fall apart if she encountered a rattlesnake but she was still all girl. The kind of girl who knew that if she ran into a rattlesnake the choices were either to back away slowly or kill it quickly, without hesitation or hysterics. A cowgirl was often a great catch for any guy who could keep up with her. Few guys could.

Dee Simpson got her hands on some samples of stone tools from Calico, heard the story and went out there. She took a long look around and another couple of trips after that. She made a survey of the area, saw where there were stone tools from the modern era lying around in the hills and where much older tools had been dug up by a few curious amateurs over the previous decade. She felt very strongly that there was something significant on and under the Calico hills, maybe very significant. She knew she had to bring this find to the attention of someone important. Someone who could get the proper attention for this collection of stone tools that might be so old as to rewrite the history of early man in the Western Hemisphere. She knew who that person might be. All she had to do was figure out how to get to meet him. He was only the most famous archeologist in the world.

And that is where the story gets interesting.